By Manny Otiko, California Black Media
As someone who has been self-employed as a rideshare driver and a freelance writer, I’ve received a crash course in making sense of the quirks and complications of the American healthcare system.
You learn very quickly when you’re self-employed that you have to do everything yourself – and, in the process, you have to understand all of it, too. You have to be your own HR department and accounts payable staff. That’s when you realize the value of employer-paid health insurance.
With fulltime employment, in some cases, employers pay all the health care insurance costs. In other cases, they pay half. When your monthly premium is $400, that $200 subsidy could go a long way.
I’m single, but it’s even worse for families. My brother, who has a wife and two children, pays more than $1,000 for his monthly premium. Fortunately, he makes a good living and can afford it. But many families can’t.
“The total costs for a typical family of four insured by the most common health plan offered by employers will average $28,166 this year,” according to the annual Milliman Medical Index, an independent assessment of health costs provided by a private risk management firm.
USA Today reports that healthcare costs have jumped $5,000 in two years and, already unaffordable, the prices keep rising.
I tried to do the responsible thing and buy health insurance, but it becomes prohibitive when you have to foot the bill yourself. Companies were quoting me premiums averaging about $400 per month – even with Obamacare. And with all the other essential bills, such as food, gasoline, rent, adding up, it comes down to a choice of what you can eliminate.
Like many Americans, you ask yourself what you can do without? I can do without health insurance, but I can’t do without transportation, food and shelter. That’s the central problem with Obamacare. It’s still too expensive and forces you to buy into the complicated healthcare system. Even with additional Covered California subsidies the costs are still high for freelance workers.
But after I fell ill during the COVID-19 pandemic, I learned the high cost of not having health insurance, too.
I woke up in the middle of the night, experiencing the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life. I finally called an ambulance and was transported to the hospital. I stayed in the hospital for about six hours. They never performed any surgery on me, or gave me any medication. (I had a kidney stone) But when I got the bill, it was about $15,000. Now, I’m buried in paperwork as I try to get rid of this debt. It’s no wonder that healthcare costs are the no. 1 source of bankruptcy.
But people have to ask themselves, can you afford not to have health insurance? I chose to risk not having it and now I have close to $15,000 in medical debt. The worse thing is this: even if I had medical insurance, I still would have had a large bill. However, I realize that owing $7,000 in medical bills is not worse than close to $15,000.
I finally bit the bullet and decided to buy an HMO program that cost me close to $350 per month. That’s not an easy bill to pay. It’s like a car payment. (Fortunately, my car is paid for) When I complained about the cost to a friend, she told me I’d be better off saving the money. But I’ve already been down that road.
Therefore, I urge everyone in situations similar to mine to sign up for insurance through Covered California. It’s necessary. Open enrollment began Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, 2021.
This raises an issue Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) talked about during her presidential campaign. Medical insurance is supposed to protect against medical debt. But even if you have it, you still get hit with a pile of bills. As Warren said, medical insurance doesn’t work. It’s false advertising.
“In 2005, she, along with David Himmelstein, Deborah Thorne and Steffie Woolhandler, Warren published a paper in the journal Health Affairs documenting a memorable statistic: More than 40 % of all bankruptcies in America were a result of medical problems, they wrote. In 2009, they updated that research with an even more startling number: Medical bills were responsible for more than 62 % of all American bankruptcies.”
I favor a single-payer system where everyone gets covered. It also lowers health insurance costs because it reduces the administrative and advertising costs for
companies. And no matter what the for-profit healthcare talking points tell us, single-payer systems are more efficient. The United Nations rated the French healthcare system the most efficient, and that’s a single-payer program. And you don’t see large numbers of Canadians crossing the border to go to American for-profit hospitals.
According to retired healthcare executive Randall Potter, the health insurance industry poured millions into a stealth propaganda campaign when director Michael Moore came out with his movie ‘Sicko.” The 2007 movie pointed out the flaws of the American for-profit system and showed how other countries had much more efficient health systems.
“The industry knows from years of focus group message testing that terms like ‘socialized medicine’ and ‘government-run health care’ scare many Americans and that many of us respond favorably to terms like ‘choice’ and ‘competition.’ Based on this knowledge, there were several big lies I helped craft — and that are still in circulation today,” said Potter in an NBC News article.
Whatever the answer is, we need to try something different, because this current system isn’t working. Just look at my story, and there are millions of people like me.