What Obamacare means to me

November 14, 2013

REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

What seems to get lost in all the talk from the political pundits, the politicians and even President Obama himself, is the personal side of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

If you’ve never been without health insurance or worried that you could not get a policy — at any price — then perhaps it’s hard to have empathy for those of us who still support this law, even though I’ll be the first to admit it has flaws, it will need tweaking and yes, I share in the frustration over the Web site.

But I quit worrying about health insurance once Obamacare had been signed into law.

For starters, preexisting conditions no longer give health insurance companies an excuse to turn me, or anyone else, down. Without divulging personal information, I’m one of those people whom no insurance company will touch. I know. I tried, without success, to get insurance from a private company after my husband’s layoff from his job in IT (the company decided to offshore software development as it was less expensive.) We ended up paying $1,400 a month for 18 months for health insurance through COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act);  he was unemployed for part of that time and when he did work, it was for a company that did not offer benefits.

Before we made the decision to spend that kind of money for COBRA (which equals the amount of my daughter’s student loans when she graduates college), I researched health insurance and was told I was considered uninsurable. Yet I’ve never been hospitalized or made an emergency room visit for either of my preexisting conditions; I take an over-the-counter medication (about $5 a month) for one and a generic prescription for the other ($10 a month).

My case isn’t unique. I’ve talked with friends who’ve had similar experiences. One, married to an attorney who has his own solo practice, has a policy covering her family. But she hesitated to get checkups. “What if they find something wrong with me?” she asked, afraid any diagnosis would give the insurance company an excuse to raise premiums or even drop her coverage.

My daughter, a college student, is insured under our policy now because of Obamacare. When she graduates, she can continue that coverage until she reaches age 26, so while she’s trying to get her career established, pay rent, buy a car, she won’t have to worry about insurance.

Or she could choose a catastrophic policy, available to the under-3o set, for a pretty reasonable price.

My best friend, whose daughter is facing serious mental health issues, is thrilled to see the inclusion of mental health coverage in policies now.

Preventive health care services are covered now, even in catastrophic policies with higher deductibles. It’s just common sense to cover preventive health. You service your car — changing the oil, replacing filters and fluids — so it will run better and last longer. Our bodies aren’t that different.

The cost for a policy under ACA? Out of curiosity, I’ve checked both the list of possible policies for us on the official marketplace site and estimated the actual cost to us on the Kaiser Family Foundation site. Depending on what we choose, it looks like it could run around $500 a month. That’s more than we’re paying now for the policy my husband has through work, but far less than through COBRA.

He has a contract job, so it won’t last forever. And though I don’t want to go through that job-search process again, and that financial desert between jobs and paychecks, the possible loss of health insurance through an employer doesn’t scare me as it once did.

People argue that they shouldn’t be forced to buy a health insurance policy, and that just seems irresponsible. I don’t care if you’re a healthy 25-year-old male. Accidents happen. Illnesses can happen, even to previously healthy individuals. And it’s easy to run up thousands in medical bills.

The cost down the road to the entire taxpaying public? I don’t know, but can we honestly believe that continuing to have 40 million Americans without insurance won’t run up emergency room bills and increase costs because simple conditions go untreated until they become complex and expensive?

Obamacare is not the final answer in providing health coverage to every American. I think it’s just the start. We still need to look at how we can cut health care costs in this country, without sacrificing quality.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s tough to pursue any of those if you’re sick, you worry your policy could be cancelled — or you can’t even buy health insurance.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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