January 18

MAINE COMPASS: Why I’m not buying health insurance, this year anyway

Rachel Sukeforth

I’m not going to buy health insurance this year. Nope. I’m choosing to pay the “penalty.”

I’m 28, female, college educated, and have a recuring health issue that requires me to get an annual exam. I’ve been covered on and off since college, through my own jobs and via my parents’ employer. I’ve been uninsured since I aged out of that provision of the Affordable Care Act. I have worked full time for the same employer for almost three years, but the small business I work for doesn’t provide an opportunity for me to gain health coverage through it.

When the ACA first went into effect, I was looking forward to the exchanges. At the time, I was working various part-time temporary employment, where I wasn’t offered health insurance coverage. I thought the exchanges would be a great low-cost option for those of us in the unfortunate situation of unreliable income, as well as an asset to those businesses that had seasonal or infrequent employees.

Recently, my neighbor asked me if I was going to buy insurance on the exchanges. “No,” I replied. “It’s still too expensive for me. It’s more affordable for me to pay for my one visit a year to the doctor’s office and pay the penalty than pay for the monthly premium.”

“But it’s insurance. Like car insurance, you may or may not need it and you’ll probably pay in more than you will use,” she countered. “It’s a precaution in case you get hurt.”

She had a good point.

So I went home and started the process of enrolling through the Federal Health Exchange. I set up an account through healthcare.gov, entered in some basic lifestyle information as well as my income. The two health insurance providers in Maine both averaged $300 per month for a Silver Plan. (As a side note, as of Jan. 7, this option was averaging $220 a month.)

I felt the premiums being charged were still too much. Car insurance is required in Maine if we own a car. Owning a car is a luxury. Possessing a driver’s license, I learned in driver’s education 13 years ago, was a privilege, not a right. And my car insurance costs only $70 per month.

Why was premium on a middle of the road health insurance policy, for a healthy, young adult costing more than $220 a month? Didn’t I have a right to my health? I eat a well-balanced diet, exercise fairly regularly, get enough sleep, and do whatever else I can to prevent illness and increase my life’s longevity.

Major medical treatments are costly. They are more expensive than replacing my car if it gets totaled. One could argue that vehicles are disposable, your health and life are not.

There’s been a lot of demand in Maine to accept federal money to expand Medicaid to almost 70,000 disabled, elderly and low-income Mainers. Expanding MaineCare is the right step toward making sure all Mainers have access to affordable, quality health care.

Carried over from last session is L.D. 1345, a bill to create a single-payer system in Maine.

Access to affordable, quality health care is human right and should not be grouped as a commodity. Our current insurance system inflates health care costs and puts the profit margins of the insurance companies before the financial health of customers.

No one should ever have to choose between paying their medical bills or heating their home, putting food on their table or keeping the follow-up appointment, or skipping doses and not refilling prescriptions. Passage of this bill would move Maine toward being a more equitable state. It would attract businesses, help to improve our economy and enhance the quality of life.

The Affordable Care Act was a great step toward reforming the health care industry. And I am glad that our state is seriously examining how to make health care more accessible and affordable for all Maine citizens. Until a single-payer system is implemented in Maine, however, I will continue to pay out of pocket for my infrequent health provider visits and pay the penalty.

Rachel Sukeforth of Litchfield was a Democratic candidate for the Legislature in 2012. She sought the seat representing House District 80, Litchfield, Monmouth, Wales.

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