Most of us live here because we choose to, trading the securities of urban life for the red rock, the rush of river and the wildness that surrounds us. Seasonal or part-time employment and low wages are part of the bargain, which often means forgoing what should be a core component in all our lives: comprehensive health insurance.
This Affordable Care Act can change all that, and though it certainly has had a rocky launch, it’s a small price to pay for the greatest piece of civil rights legislation since 1965. Beginning Jan. 1, women will no longer be forced to pay more for health insurance than men. And those between the ages of 50 and 65, when insurance premiums take a quantum leap, will pay no more than three times what people in their 20s are charged. Best of all, no more discrimination when it comes to pre-existing conditions.
My wife and I are both cancer survivors (knock on wood). After diligently paying our health insurance premiums for 25 years, we were lulled into a false sense of security, unprepared for the financial tsunami that accompanies most major illnesses. (According to CNBC, medical costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country.) As official members of the Pre-Existing Condition Club – and there are enough of us here in Moab to start our own chapter – we found ourselves shackled to the escalating costs of a financially unsustainable health care plan, unable to shop for more affordable coverage. With Obamacare, those financial shackles finally have sprung open.
But Obamacare isn’t just about saving money, though there are some serious tax subsidies for individuals making under $44,680, or families earning less than $92,200, which I suspect includes most of us living in Grand County.
More importantly, Obamacare is about keeping you alive.
Beginning Jan. 1, every health care plan, from the cheapest bronze plan to a pricey platinum one to a bare bones catastrophic plan, must include preventive care at no dollar cost to you. Last time I checked, a colonoscopy at Allen Memorial Hospital currently runs over $2,000, which means people tend to procrastinate until health circumstances force their hand. By then, it’s often too late. Under Obamacare, a screening colonoscopy will be free (to those aged 50 and over), along with mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, HPV DNA testing, and more than 50 other preventive care services. This alone will save more than a few lives right here in Moab.
What is it about Obamacare that sticks in the craw? The individual mandate? The idea that Big Brother is forcing us to buy health insurance against our wishes, even if we never plan to get sick, even if it keeps insurers from charging higher premiums for the less fortunate, even if it insures us against our own financial armageddon, even if a bare-bones plan can cost less than our cell phone bill (minus the apps)? It’s an argument I might have made before illness shadowed our lives, but not after what we’ve been through. The odds always look good until your number comes up.
So let’s stop talking about death panels, Big Brother and the perils of socialized medicine, and start learning how to navigate this new world of health care. (If anything, the Health Insurance Marketplace is the epitome of capitalism, where a level playing field has been created for private insurance companies to go mano-a-mano, competing for your business.)
But you’ll have to do some work of your own, figuring out if these new plans are superior to ones you might already have, balancing premiums with deductibles, calculating your tax subsidies and out-of-pocket costs, and comparing health provider networks to make sure they include the doctors or hospitals you want. You can get started at www.healthcare.gov or by calling 800-318-2596 with your questions. And if you need some extra help, ask your health insurance broker or the Moab Free Health Clinic, where certified application counselors are ready to help.
Then we can get back to doing all the things we love about living here, feeling a bit more secure in knowing that health care is no longer a privilege. It is now our right.
Charles Kulander, a 22-year resident of Grand County, is a writer, photographer and health care evangelist.