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.