Paul Andersen: So, who needs health insurance?
April 27, 2003
Today, my wife and I will pee into cups for a health examiner for our new insurance carrier. We will also provide blood samples.
The test results will determine whether or not we are good risks. The older you get, the more scrupulous become the insurers and the more bodily fluids they seem to require.
I hope we pass the tests. Going without insurance is a major prohibition in our high-tech, high-cost society, even in Aspen where everybody is young and healthy. Sure, medical science can cure you of almost anything, but try paying for it out of pocket and you’ll need a line of credit from Prince Bandar.
A month ago, my cousin had two feet of his colon removed; now he has a semi-colon. Two weeks ago, a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, necessitating a series of treatments. Last week, a buddy of my son’s, who plays on his soccer team, was put into intensive care for childhood diabetes.
Treating these maladies will be expensive, but it’s absolutely necessary. These people are young and have many productive years ahead of them. Will health insurance cover all their expenses? Will their health insurance premiums soar as a result? These are vital questions they’re asking now.
I never used to think about health insurance. That was when my health seemed as secure as the national economy. Actually, it seemed way more secure. There was no germ or virus my body couldn’t shake, no injury that wouldn’t heal. I was young and invincible!
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I was also too naïve to understand the implications of a debilitating accident and too blind to see that everybody is susceptible to deteriorating health. I felt like my life was charmed and that insurance was highway robbery.
Then I developed a hernia from shoveling snow one winter in Crested Butte and learned how much it costs for a guy to open you up, make a few sutures and send you home with a handful of painkillers. It cost about double my life savings at the time.
Fortunately, I was insured through my employer and the costs were covered. I healed up and a few years later developed another hernia, this time shoveling snow at home on the Frying Pan (You’d think I would learn!). Again, my employee insurance covered the costs.
Now that I am self-employed, the checks I write for insurance premiums each month are galling. Aside from those two hernias, I have collected on hardly a single health issue. The deductible has me paying out of pocket for an occasional checkup, and my insurance premiums far exceed any of my medical expenses.
The insurance industry is doing quite well by having me as a client. I eat well, get plenty of sleep, stay active and injury-free, don’t smoke, drink moderately and plan on keeping to that program for as long as my self-awareness and discipline hold out.
I know people who can afford insurance but choose not to buy it. Like me, they figure they’re healthy and that the money they put into insurance just goes down the drain. They assume that by saving their money instead, they can afford whatever comes up. This is the Christian Science approach to long-term health care.
Sure, they save money from monthly insurance bills, but most of it gets spent on trips to Cancun or the Bugaboos. Meanwhile, they are aging and the Russian Roulette of daily life is conspiring to catch up with them. One day, the trigger will fire a live round and BLAMMO! they are applying for a second mortgage to pay for radiation treatments.
Last fall I interviewed Marty Ames at the Senior Services Center in Pitkin County. Marty runs programs for people 60 and over who qualify for senior services, a sector of the population that will see considerable growth in the next decade.
One of Marty’s concerns is that many aging baby boomers are not covered by insurance and are maybe one mortgage payment or rent installment away from homelessness. If, or perhaps, when they suffer a catastrophic illness youthful invincibility will instantly morph into aged dependency with the likelihood of personal bankruptcy.
This sobering scenario is one for local governments to address perhaps by creating a valleywide insurance pool or fund for resort industry employees left out in the cold. The old ski bums who “lived large” during their feckless youth may soon need a safety net to catch them while falling into old age.
Paul Andersen hopes his pee is clean and his blood is pure. His column runs on Mondays.
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