One thing in this health care debate that has frustrated me to no end is how both Republicans and Democrats make it seem like unless you have a job you cannot have health insurance at all. Well this is kind of true as without the job you can’t pay for insurance, but they make it seem like your only option of having health insurance is through your employer.
Quoting the Republican platform (page 38):
To empower families, we must make insurance more affordable and more secure, and give employees the option of owning coverage that is not tied to their job.
Quoting the Democratic platform (page 10):
Families and individuals should have the option of keeping the coverage they have or choosing from a wide array of health insurance plans, including many private health insurance options and a public plan.
Employees already have the option of getting more affordable coverage not tied to their job without the need for a "public option". It’s called shopping around and doing the math. You are not required to go with whatever your employer provides. Most choose to do so simply because of the convenience of not having to shop around and also the convenient deduction from their paycheck.
I have my own health insurance plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City instead of my employer. Why?
My employer is self-insured. This means there is an insurance division of the company itself, and part of my paycheck goes to fund the insurance I had. When I first started with the firm, I was coming off a lengthy unemployment, so I signed up with the company insurance plan just to get insurance right away. I even qualified for and received a $1,000 discount off my annual premium.
Later in the year, notices went out of upcoming changes to the insurance plan, changes I didn’t like. But I didn’t have to live with it. I had other options, and I exercised them by shopping around for something else to see if I could find something better.
And I did.
And in November of last year, I signed up with the policy I currently have. I have a lower deductible and better prescription drug coverage, plus I can walk into almost any doctor’s office or hospital in Kansas City, and pretty close to almost any doctor’s office and hospital anywhere else in the country, and be covered.
All of that for slightly higher than what was being deducted from my paycheck, even with the discount I was getting.
And my insurance is not tied to my job. So if I leave the company voluntarily or they lay me off, I still have my insurance for the same rate I pay now, and I don’t have to worry about trying to pay an astronomical amount through COBRA to keep the same coverage.
Now there is one caveat: I cannot deduct my health insurance premiums on my taxes unless I itemize, and even then my insurance premiums must exceed 7.5% of my adjusted gross income (that’s some expensive insurance, for me at least given my annual income). For lower income families, however, this might still be an option, and it’d be a consideration as part of doing the math.
So Republicans and Democrats, if you want the people exercising their options with health insurance, allow them to deduct independent health insurance premiums without having to meet a minimum threshold and without having to also itemize.
But then again, as we all know, the health care reform law has little to do with health care, and even less to do with reform. It’s all about seizing and consolidating power.