Saturday, September 11, 2010

God Forbid You Lose Your Health Insurance

Let's get serious for a minute. Being unemployed is wicked and wearisome enough, but the albatross of maintaining health insurance has potential to make a bad situation utterly merciless.

After I was laid off from Billboard in March 2009, I was able to maintain my health insurance via COBRA for 18 months. It was blessedly subsidized for nine months, thanks to an Obama stimulus bill, allowing me to pay about $140 a month for the same benefits/doctor I was accustomed to. What a gift. Then COBRA jumped to $405 a month—the full amount for my individual policy for health, dental and vision insurance—alarming but a godsend.

However, at the end of the 18th month, which I will reach September 30, I will suddenly be without healthcare. Boom—cut off, no questions asked. That leaves me only with the option of shopping for an individual health insurance policy—mind you, if anyone lets healthcare coverage lapse for even a day, you invite the near certainty of being turned down for a free agent policy. To get insurance you better already have insurance.

I dunno what Obama's public health insurance plan will eventually hold for Americans, but let me tell you: Not having a job and finding affordable healthcare is akin to carving Mount Rushmore with a nail file.

Might being a member of industry organizations help? Grammy voting member? The Freelancers Union? Despite lots of bravado, ultimately to qualify, you need three legs and two heads. No luck. Next up: Three days scouring the web for an indie NY plan. Phone calls and emails with agents. Fortunately, I qualify for Healthy New York, which offers reduced rates if you meet specific criteria—including limited income. Because my Census gig ended earlier this month and I am currently earning, uh, zero, I scored.

So I met with an Atlantis rep today. Consumer reviews aren't great, but for $310 a month, I am covered HMO-style for a year. I lose my decade-long primary health care physician, but I have a $20 co-pay for most everything, including meds... I'm thankful. I don't have to worry about walking in front of a bus. If I get real real sick, I have care and drugs.

Amazing... Most of us get a job and sign onto the company's healthcare without a second thought. I always have. Not having a full-time job for so long has opened my eyes to how backward our healthcare system is. And with 9.6% unemployment, I'm sure as hell not alone.

Most every other nation has public healthcare that works; once again, the United States is far behind the curve. I'm willing to pay my way, happy to do it. But jumping through hoops like a dog is humiliating and scary. For sure, it doesn't feel much like the American way.