Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Getting schooled on health insurance

Here's my health care horror story to add to the list of millions more out there. Mine has a surprise twist, so maybe it's a mystery/horror story. (Many of you have already tuned out, not getting to the third sentence in this carefully crafted credo created to craze contented crowds. Yeah, another health insurance tale of woe. Yep, I'm with you! Except I got mine, so I don't need to read yours. Well, if you did get this far, bear with me a little more.) It's fun with math time!

First, a little background. For the vast majority of my life I've had employer-based health coverage. It got more expensive and it covered less over time, but I had coverage. Just over two years ago my wife and I found ourselves without employer based coverage. We got an individual plan - paying a lot more and getting a lot less.

One more, seemingly unrelated, piece of information. I applied for and was accepted to a graduate program at Hamline University. I am pursuing my Master of Nonprofit Management degree over the next two years, giving up my Thursday nights in exchange for some structured study of what the heck I have been doing the last twenty years of my life.

So, let me weave Chapter One and Chapter Two into a strangely united Chapter Three. Quentin Tarantino won't have anything to worry about from me. However, the story shows just how messed up we have become on this health insurance thing.

Earlier this summer, after getting the happy news I was accepted to Hamline's program, I busied myself in the online universe of Forms to Fill Out. Submit your vaccination history here! (Check.) Complete your financial aid loan package here! (Check.) Register for fall here! (You get the idea.)

Then, amidst the cacophony of links, there was a small glimmer of incongruence. A link that caught my eye, given the painfully large checks our family writes for what is often referred to as health insurance and what I usually refer to as protection money. (An aside: Think of it this way - I would have spent less money on medical care if I just paid cash out of pocket and didn't carry any coverage. But of course, the Insurance Industry is there in my ear saying "Nice house you got there. It'd be a shame if you got into a major trauma and went bankrupt without us, wouldn't it? " And so I pay on the off-chance that anyone in my family gets hit by a bus.)

So I click over to this link. It says, rather unpretentiously, Waive Health Insurance. A few clicks later, a different links says Request Health Insurance.

Hmmmmm.... Click. Click. Click.

Turns out, as a graduate student at Hamline, I can waive health insurance if I am of the privileged class with good employer-based coverage. Or, I can opt in to their group plan if I don't have better options. Click, click, click. Turns out, I can cover my family too, at a less-subsidized rate, but they will allow me to buy them in. Huh. Turns out, this is all strikingly less than I am paying now.

I now really love Hamline.

OK, fun with math time! Fire up your favorite spreadsheet program (I personally favor the old stand-by Excel 2007, but this is a matter of taste. Any good tabulator will do). Take what the health-insurance community calls a good rate for really bad coverage. Add to that the annual deductible ($1,000 per person in our case! And that was the good deal. *sigh*). Now, subtract from that very, very large dollar amount the new, more reasonable price for group coverage of the same family. Also subtract the new annual deductible ($50 per person. Yes, five percent of what I had to pay under individual coverage).

That's a big number on that line. In fact, that number is greater than the total I am paying in tuition and fees as a graduate student in the Master of Nonprofit Management program. In fact, I am saving my family money by going to graduate school.

Yes, you read that right. Check your spreadsheet, call your health insurance broker (and I've called more than one looking for a better deal) and, if necessary, check your eyeglasses prescription. I am making a profit by going to graduate school over what I would have to pay for bad health insurance coverage.

Joseph Heller would be so proud. And yet would likely have a hard time believing it.

So, if anyone is wondering if our system is broken, maybe they need to get a little education. If our President has been unable to get this system fixed in two years, my wife will be enrolling next. She gets her MFA, we save money on health insurance. Let's hope our Members of Congress can get schooled as well.

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