Saturday, April 18, 2009

Working Just for the Health Insurance

There's been some talk lately about the slowing economy, and the big drop in the stock market, forcing retirees back into the job market. But there's a problem that the media seems to have overlooked, and surprisingly, I couldn't find much about it on the web at all, and that's folks who could retire, but don't, because they'd lose their health insurance and wouldn't be able to afford to carry it on their own. Everything I could find was on working people who can't get health insurance at all -- which I suppose puts us in a luckier category. But, the older I get, the more people I run into who can't retire. The days are gone when someone could retire and look forward to 20 years of comfortable leisure afterwards, like my parents' generation did.

My Jim is 57 years old and has worked for the Probation Department for 30 years. The total cost of his insurance is $1000 per month -- largely paid by his employer. He's nine years older than I am, so even at 65, when he could get Medicare, he couldn't quit work because then I wouldn't have health coverage. So, my husband can't retire until he's 74 -- and we'd better pray that his health allows him to do that, because there's no way I could ever replace him as primary breadwinner at this stage of my life. Substitute teachers don't get health insurance; we're considered to be independent contractors.

*sigh* Life is fragile, you know? A perfectly decent, hardworking, responsible family can just go straight down the tubes when disaster strikes -- and health-related disasters are one of the biggest factors sending people into bankruptcy.

My online friends in other countries are continually astonished at the American disdain for taxes, I know -- but it would take a revolution to change it. No way are we getting a "one-payer" system -- maybe small adustments here and there, covering certain classes of people, but not the full-scale socialized medicine. The voters in this country will never stand for it. To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure that should happen, myself, although there are some good arguments for it.

I guess, in spite of liberalizing tendencies as I've grown older I still do have that conservative streak -- I can't help but feel that my health care shouldn't be somebody else's problem. If I can't afford to go to the doctor, then I don't go to the doctor -- just like I don't get things like dental implants that my dentist thinks I should have but insurance doesn't cover; I just live without a couple of molars. Just like I can get accupuncture for my TMJ (which insurance partially covers), but not the dental treatment from a specialist (which insurance doesn't cover at all).

Maybe it's generational -- my grandma and Jim's mother would both say, in such situations, that "There ought to be something there" or "They ought to have this" -- meaning a government program to take care of whatever problem was under discussion. But I never had that sense of outraged entitlement. If I had my act together enough to have developed a career, we wouldn't have this problem -- and that's an easy stone to throw for anyone who cared to. So, I can worry -- but I don't really feel like I have the right to bitch.

It's strange -- I wouldn't be resentful if there were public programs for other people; I just don't feel like I should be asking for one for myself. An American thing? The way I was raised? I don't know.


Unknown said...

Wow...reading your post is a startling recognition that we live in different realities. In Canada we have a sense of entitlement to health care, but 'entitlement' does not have a bad connotation in this instance. Our taxes pay for health care for all....of course there are problems....test access like MRI may not be immediate, although my husband got one in less than a month for a non critical, chronic injury....but on the whole we do not even think that we will not get treatment, much less worry about paying for it. There is no "I can't afford to take my child ..or myself.. to the doctor because I might not be able to afford the tests or treatment or hospital stay or therapy." We are very very fortunate that we never have to think about whether we can afford to go to the doctor...although some communities do have a shortage of doctors. This is a good thing to be entitled to. "Socialist" medicine is health care for all. Hurray! And you and your family deserve it as much as my family does. I'm assuming Americans are comfortable with feeling 'entitled' to their day in court. to their civil liberties,'re just not accustomed to feeling entitled about health care. I often find it so strange to hear American politicians screaming about the dangers of socialized medicine when we in Canada live next door, not on another continent. Sorry for the long rant, but I had to comment when you ended your post feeling that you somehow hadn't earned the right to health care, that it was somehow your fault that you didn't now have a career that provided adequate coverage. In Canada, ambitious or lazy has no bearing on your access to medical help....and it shouldn't in the U.S. either! Good luck to your government as they pursue health care reform,,,but as you say, the reluctance to have a single payer system--they seem to link it with not having your choice of doctor--is regrettable. We have that single payer middleman having to make a profit.
Anyway, greetings to you, Karen, and thanks for continuing to share your thoughts.

Karen Bacquet said...

Hi Lois -- thanks for stopping by.

Our media here is full of stories about how Canadians come south for medical care, because there are long waits for certain necessary procedures. However, every single person I know -- and I know a lot of such people online -- who lives with a socialized health care system absolutely loves it.

I was raised with a work ethic that you don't "deserve" anything in the economic sphere -- you earn it, or you don't have it. For Americans, rights are what you are free to do, not what you deserve to have.

My Jim deserves to retire after 30 years of a stressful job in the criminal justice system, but he would never claim he has a right to it.

So, yes, Americans do live in a different reality than people in other developed countries. But I've heard a recent poll that suggests the tide is turning, and more of us support a one-payer system. Time will tell.

sjonen99 said...

Gotta disagree with you, Karen! I feel healthcare would be cheaper if the government stayed out of it! If people were allowed to compete for service it would create innovation, Lasik eye surgery used to be really expensive, but, compare to to the prices when it first came about, its a bargain! Mostly, because Lasik eye surgery rarely gets government money so the have to get better to make money!