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The placebo version of ‘affordable’

The placebo version of ‘affordable’ The placebo version of ‘affordable’


For those of you lucky enough not to have to get health insurance on the federal marketplace, Dec. 15 probably doesn’t mean much. But for those unfortunate souls like me who do, think of it as an annual deadline to choose between death by hanging or slow poisoning.

When the Affordable Care Act was first passed in 2010, it promised both affordability and choice for those of us who don’t get insurance through our employer or some other government program. While the law did succeed in providing insurance for millions of Americans who did not have it before, it has failed time and time again to actually bend the cost curve of health care and provide plans that are “affordable” by any normal definition. I speak from experience as someone who finds my options on increasingly out of reach financially.

This year’s selection of overpriced plans has been particularly horrendous. First of all, you can’t find a plan with a deductible under $8,100. That means you have to shell out nearly $10,000 before any insurance company will even toss in a dime. If I ever get that sick, I pray that I’m in coma so I don’t have to see the bill.

Then there are the premiums. This is where the absurdity of the system really comes into focus. For 2020, because I happen to live in Marathon County, I will have to pay $100 more per month next year just to keep the same basic “bronze” plan through Security Health.

Here’s the really crazy part: if I happened to live on the other side of Highway 13 in Clark County, I would actually be paying $70 less per month next year than what I’m paying this year. That’s a price swing of $170 per month — over $2,000 per year — just because of where I live in Colby. My household income is not changing much, but the government has decided that I can now afford a 33 percent increase in premiums.

How could this be, you might ask. It has to do with how the feds determine your advance premium tax credit — a monthly deduction in how much you pay for insurance. Basically, a cruel, twisted algorithm based on factors beyond your control dictates what you will pay. The only ones who benefit are insurance companies like Molina Healthcare, which is moving into Marathon County for the first time next year and indirectly leading to higher premiums. It’s a long explanation I don’t have room to write.

This column isn’t just about me. It’s about the millions of Americans — many in much more dire situations than myself — who struggle to pay for something as essential as health care. We deserve better, but in our current political climate, the best health care plan is this: just don’t get sick.