I saw a story in the New York Times while on vacation (I know, a vacation & the NY Times?) that highlighted the results of a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation. No longer associated with the health insurance company, Kaiser Permanente, the foundation is developing a reputation for a non-partisan source of health-related research.
The study provided fresh insight into what has become a problem with no obvious solution: health care cost in this country. As someone striving for a satisfying retirement I keep looking for some light at the end of the tunnel. So far, all I see is a train heading straight for me, and the rest of us. Consider some of the the findings of this research report:
- The average annual premium for family coverage through an employer is $15,000, or roughly double what it was 10 years ago.
- Half of workers in smaller firms now face “deductibles of at least $1,000, including 28 percent facing deductibles of $2,000 or more,” according to the study.
- A growing number of business owners are delaying or eliminating hiring because of the cost of health coverage.
- Some provisions of the new health care legislation have added to costs without controlling increases in premiums to cover those costs.
It seems to me the health care bill had several flaws, but one of the worst was the delay of full implementation for several years. All that did was give the insurance industry a green light to raise rates as high as possible prior to the law taking full effect. I know my rates have gone up an average of 17% for the last several years while benefits have decreased and my deductible is a whopping $5,000.
This outcome was as predictable as the bank bailout producing huge profits for that industry at the expense of the rest of us. Haven't we learned anything yet about the ability of large corporations to use any loophole or flaw in a law to maximize profits?
Interestingly, the study reports that the last two years have shown an apparent slowdown in the rate increases for some segments of the industry. There is no reason given but I can guarantee you it isn't because the insurance industry has developed a heart. It is more likely that people have stopped going to doctors and dentists as often, or even as needed, so the insurers' costs are not rising as rapidly.
It could also be that the industry realizes that eventually they will be selling a product not enough people can afford to purchase to keep them in business. With somewhere around 50 million Americans uninsured, the health industry is reaching the point of diminishing returns in driving away customers.
Obviously, I have no answer to this very serious problem. The health care legislation of 2010 had the intent of reigning in costs and providing coverage for those unable to afford the out-of-control increases from health insurers and hospitals. Unfortunately, except for a few benefits for a limited number of folks, the result has been an acceleration of the problem.
What is scary to me are the number of people trying to make it without going to doctors or clinics on a regular basis and waiting for an emergency to get treatment. Then, either the costs bankrupt them, or the charges eventually get passed on to those with coverage. Much like the financial mess we are in, health care and healthy living is becoming a case of the haves and have-nots.
I fully understand the increasing role of personal responsibility for health care. Eating well, exercising, not smoking.....those are steps that everyone can take, insured or not. But, the human body breaks down. I don't care how many servings of fruits and vegetables you have each day, at some point you will suffer from a medical problem that only a doctor and hospital can address. Without adequate insurance, your life will change forever.
I believe a satisfying retirement lifestyle is in large part a matter of personal choices. Your spending habits, your healthy living decisions, your attitude, your relationships, your passions, and your acceptance of responsibility for what you can control all are things you have a major role in determining.
But, in the area of health care insurance, we seem to be on an out-of-control train. I am beginning to wonder if it has to crash completely before we develop the collective will to find a solution that protects us and still allows doctors, health care professionals and insurers to earn a decent profit.
For retirees, pre-retirees, and frankly anyone who is above ground and breathing, it feels as if we are reaching a breaking point.