It's big business, and the profits are dear. Let's face it. Covering me or any other cancer survivor who is nearing 60 years old isn't the kind of business health insurance companies hope to secure. So when Katie McCrimmon of Health News Colorado wrote about me this week, I wasn't exactly surprised to read most of the story. What did surprise me was the blatant and disturbing ease with which one of the insurance executives claimed victory as patients like me are squeezed and damaged in their business models.
The story reports that after learning that her company's drastic undercutting of premiums for 2015 had resulted in an 83% reduction in the federal subsidy available to me (and tens of thousands of others in Colorado) to help pay our insurance premiums next year, CEO Julia Hutchins of Colorado HealthOP said, "We’re on the path we anticipated.” That's cold, hard business reality folks.
What Hutchins and CO HealthOP have done is fully legal under the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare since the subsidies are calculated on the lowest cost silver plans available on our exchange. The ACA also allows age rating in the calculation of premiums, so as a woman approaching 60 (my birthday is next week), my premium is also rising an additional 12% for my silver Kaiser Permanente plan. Overall with the reduction in my subsidy and the rise in my premium, I will pay 27% more next year for my same plan, should I decide to keep it.
Later in the story, another expert reminds folks to shop carefully and consider all options for next year as open enrollment begins on the exchanges for 2015. What the experts fail to mention is that families like mine can shop all we want and be as careful as is humanly possible and that will not make more money available in our personal budgets to pay for changing premiums and/or co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. There is only so much any of us can do to alter our personal financial standing to accommodate the business plans of the insurance companies selling the policies.
And just to speak to the issue of my willingness to change doctors again in order to shave costs, it really doesn't cut costs for many of us to change providers and/or insurance companies. The transfer of records and the re-establishment of medical relationships for those with complex health histories is very costly to the system and potentially dangerous.
I have a message for Hutchins and for other insurance CEOs. I am not willing to make decisions that are detrimental to my health in order to fulfill your successful business plan. I am a patient, not a consumer. And if you will so openly describe what is happening to me this year as your success, I would urge anyone considering your insurance coverage to rethink that very carefully. Any insurance company that would do what you are doing to thousands of people without acknowledging the harm being done to individual lives and families and do nothing to mitigate that damage would also make the same sorts of business and profit first decisions with every other aspect of the coverage you want to sell us.
While perhaps Kaiser is just wiser about not stating publicly what its business plans are for me and the other Kaiser members, I am appalled by the callousness with which Hutchins claimed her success. I'd ask how she sleeps at night, but I know the answer. She sleeps better than I do as I worry about my future.
Oh, and I have one more message for Julia Hutchins. Shame on you, young lady. Shame on you for building your success on the backs of people like me who have worked and paid taxes for more than 45 years in hopes that all that hard work would at least garner us some modicum of respect from the younger generation even if it has not granted us much financial security. Shame on you for not finding a way to help cut health care costs while also honoring human health and human life enough not to do such horrific damage to so many. I have read that Hutchins has done work on children's health coverage costs, and I can only pray she didn't feel so comfortable harming them as she has felt harming older people like me.
The ACA/Obamacare exchange in Colorado (and perhaps nationally) seems to have crossed a line into accepting age and/or disability discrimination on behalf of Colorado HealthOP and allowing the terrible slashing of the subsidies that made it possible for thousands of patients like me to secure anything close to what younger, healthier people will find available to them in 2015. And I do not think that was the intent of the Affordable Care Act. Business success or not, it's just plain wrong.
This whole mess reinforces yet again why we must demand a new model based on human values and health care successes -- and improved and expanded Medicare for all for life would do just that.