Marolt: Singing the Blue Cross Blue Shield blues
I got my new health insurance premium and I think I’m going to be sick. Its’ $2,540 per month for a family of five — an increase of 44 percent over last year’s, which was about 20 percent more than the year before. I’m in shock — more than 30 grand a year for health insurance and I don’t believe there’s a cure.
In reaction, I did what no rational person would do, unless you happen to be an accountant moonlighting as a newspaper columnist. I went to my insurance carrier’s website and plugged my information in again and used a Denver zip code.
It turns out that the exact health plan would cost only (only?) $1,711 if we lived in the city. That’s almost $10,000 less per year.
Apparently nobody in health insurance is spilling the beans on why this disparity exists between Aspen and Denver premiums except to say that there is only one insurer in the Aspen area, as if that explains anything other than the existence of a bona fide monopoly.
That explanation begs another question — why is there only one health insurer willing to underwrite our beautifully healthy little town? Since I couldn’t get the straight answer, I had to connect the foot bone to the shin bone and so forth by myself.
Is the reason that insurers don’t want to insure us because we are young and healthy? No. The whole game of health insurance is won by insuring young, healthy people who don’t make many claims. The demographics here should be money in the bank for insurance companies, all other things being equal.
Well, then, maybe the reason is that doctors are so expensive in Aspen that insurers don’t want anything to do with us. It’s a good theory, but I don’t think that’s why insurers don’t want to do business here, either. For the most part, insurance doesn’t pay for trips to the doctor. The average deductible on health insurance is so high now that most office visits are just paid by us, out of pocket, never to be reimbursed again.
So, what else could be scaring the insurance companies out of here? I’ll give you a hint: Look for the crane. It’ll lead you to the huge reason that got bigger a couple of years ago and is currently under expansion again. It’s our dang, five-star hospital/spa resort! The place deductibles go to be met.
You’ve heard the stories. You know what an MRI costs out there. You know what a simple blood test will set you back. I have an unmarried friend who recently had two knees replaced and, since he had no one at home to help him, had to stay in the hospital for two weeks until he could get around on his own again. He told me they billed his insurance company $200,000 for that convalescing staycation!
Is it any wonder that few health insurers want anything to do with covering this town, and the only one that does needs to charge me $30,000 a year to hedge their risk for doing so? It seems we made a little miscalculation when we approved the hospital expansion after they convinced us how little it would increase our property taxes. Nobody mentioned it would blast our insurance premiums into the stratosphere.
What’s done is done, but it highlights the problem with health care: Nobody has incentive to cut costs. Hospitals and doctors don’t because larger charges mean bigger paychecks. Neither do insurance companies where bigger premiums mean fatter paychecks, too. And, sadly now, neither do I. I’m paying $30,000 for health insurance. If I get sick, I’m demanding the best care, awesome meds, gourmet meals and a room with a view!
Now I’m going to lay the real shocker on you: This state of affairs has nothing to do with Obamacare. I don’t care that you’ve heard it a zillion times this election cycle. If you think your health insurance premiums are going down by repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, you need to have your head examined, and it will still be an out-of-pocket expense.
The reason health care premiums are so high is because medical costs are so high. That’s the simple cause and effect. All Obamacare does is shuffle those costs. And, yes, the wealthy pay a higher portion of those costs, but the wealthy tend to demand a higher standard of health care and have more surgeries, too.
So, there you have it: Health care is an incurable disease. We’re scared to death of dying, and pain is a painful reminder that the clock is running, so, by all means, cure me whatever the cost. After all, we can’t take it with us if we go.
Roger Marolt wonders if doctors can prescribe tranquilizers for people going to meet with their insurance agents this fall. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.