Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Virtual Raise

It's a long story - maybe I'll tell it some day - but for the past few years I've been working without a net.  I quit my full-time job with bennies and perks and started freelancing.  Today I have two reasonably steady part-time jobs, but both of my employers consider me an independent contractor and neither one would dream of offering me health insurance.

At the time I struck out on my own this didn't seem to be an issue.  I had health insurance through a former employer.  I paid all the premiums myself, but they were reasonable and the coverage (or so I thought) was guaranteed to see me through to Medicare and possibly beyond.

Note the fatal words "or so I thought."  I'm sure you've heard the joke about what the word "assume" means.

Anyway, the other folk in my plan are either unlucky or professional invalids, because our health insurance premiums have been increasing by leaps and bounds.  At the end of last year I received a notice that this year my premium would double, to over $1000 a month, and my former employer intended to terminate the plan at the end of this year or the next.

Well, this sucked like a tornado.  That premium increase was enough to send my monthly cash flow into red ink territory, and what was I supposed to do when the plan evaporated?  One of the reasons I had intended to stick like glue to my existing plan was that I wasn't sure I could get coverage anywhere else.  Mind you, I haven't been in the hospital or suffered a major illness in over 25 years.  In an average year my insurer pays on my behalf for an annual physical with lab tests and two prescription drugs.  That's it.  Still, those two drugs are the sign of - gasp! - the dreaded PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS.

I have high blood pressure - it runs in my family - but with medication it's been stable at a normal level for years.  I also take cholesterol medication.  My doctor used to say my HDL/LDL ratio was so good that it didn't matter that the total number was a little high, but then the medical standard changed and she said she had to prescribe the pills to protect herself.  And yes, the total is now in the normal range and stable.

Not too bad, right?  Most people my age are on this stuff, and my health is otherwise good.

If you agreed with me, you are clearly NOT a health insurance underwriter.

Well, I see that I am starting to rant, so let me cut to the chase.  Four separate health insurers have turned me down for individual coverage this year, and I don't qualify for our state plan.  I have been searching desperately for full-time work with benefits, to no avail.  Finally, this week, I managed to not only replace my coverage, but do so for just over $300 a month.

We're going out to lunch today to celebrate my $700 per month virtual raise.  I only hope that my former employer will decide to keep their plan on life support a while longer for the sake of the pool members with more serious conditions.  $1000 a month is a lot of money, but if the plan goes down, many of them really will be living without a safety net.

"My own prescription for health is less paperwork and more running barefoot through the grass".  ~Terri Guillemets

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