Affordable healthcare for all

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 15, 2004

When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. That’s especially true when it comes to affordable health care for many retired and employed Americans.

For the past three months, my retirement has been rewarding. Last Wednesday, I traveled to Delaware to support an East Suffolk Community Project group. Then, over the weekend, my Les Gemmes sisters from Portsmouth, Norfolk and Suffolk took a chartered bus to Clinton, Md. – about eight miles from Washington, D.C. – for a Les Gemmes Board Meeting hosted by the Washington chapter.

On Saturday, that chapter sponsored a luncheon that featured guest speaker Del. Joanne C. Benson of the 24th Legislative District, Prince Georges County, Md. She spoke on two of our organization’s goals this year: lobbying for universal health care and promoting voter registration.

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Her speech hit home for me, reiterating the fact that I am now facing affordable health care issues.

When I was offered early retirement on June 30, I thought that I would be financially safe because I began drawing a widow’s pension in June. I’m also receiving my late husband’s retirement and asbestos settlements as well as the amount negotiated by this newspaper for continuing weekly columns.

But my finances were still not enough when a reputable insurance company offered me a policy at an extremely high monthly rate because of my high blood pressure. How many people live to be 60 without some kind of ailment? The agent told me that I was a high health risk because of my blood pressure and to expect to pay a high rate at other companies as well. Since then, I talked to many people of retirement age who still work, I’ve found out this is the reason they were working to maintain major healthcare insurance.

When I retired, the employer offered me a Cobra policy at the rate of $314 a month for 18 months. That means that now I have about 15 months of coverage left. I called my Cobra agent and asked him if the company would keep insuring me for this rate after that time, he referred me to a branch of the company in Virginia.

That agent confirmed I may be able to pay the same premium but said she wanted me to fill out the application with her over the phone. I did that and left nothing out – not even my high blood pressure. Upon receiving the application she mailed me, I got her the medical information she requested – blood pressure readings for one year – and mailed it back with a check.

Pending approval by the company’s underwriter department, I thought my insurance at this rate was a go.

Let’s just say I was wrong.

Two weeks later, I received a reply in the mail. In order to keep the same coverage I have now, the underwriters set my monthly payment at $1,183. Yes, that is a month.

And just in case I didn’t want that plan, they offered me a standard – and allegedly affordable – policy with limited coverage and high deductibles. That policy offered deductibles with limited coverage. The most affordable – in this case, the cheapest – had a $2,500 deductible with monthly payments set at $425.

I’m not the only person faced with affordable healthcare issues. I was talking to nurses at a healthcare facility in Chesapeake and they said that they couldn’t even afford health insurance because of the high monthly premiums.

How unfair that these workers take care of our nation’s elderly for years, then find they don’t have the healthcare benefits to take care of themselves. I wondered how come our political officials don’t do something about this with some kind of funding to provide health care to nursing facilities.

I decided to call benefit administrators at two homes-one in Suffolk and one in Chesapeake. The one in Suffolk informed me that her facility owned 300 additional homes and that benefits offered there were very good because it is part of a large chain.

She said that the smaller homes were the ones most likely not able to afford benefits for its employees. The administrator at the smaller facility in Chesapeake confirmed this, saying she is a single parent with an 8-year-old daughter. She also said that neither had any health problems and that her family policy jumped from $371.50 to 421.40 in one year.

&uot;Even though I bring home a decent wage, I may not be able to afford health insurance for me or my child in a couple of years,&uot; she said.

Now I’ve come to the conclusion that even healthy individuals face affordable healthcare issues.

The topics most debated about today between presidential candidates are terrorism, the economy and affordable healthcare. Presidential candidates will say anything to get elected but I feel that if Bush hasn’t done anything about affordable healthcare since he has been in office, what will change in the future?

Benson told the Les Gemmes to get out and vote this year and to encourage others to do the same. She also said that one vote can decide an election and bring on change.

My doctor told me when I talked to him about my concerns that hospitals can’t turn you away if you become ill. However, I would like to continue to have the privilege of making the best choice of doctors and a hospital for my individual health needs.

After 40 years of toil and labor in this great place called America, including six years as a school secretary, I don’t think that is asking too much.

Evelyn Wall is a regular News-Herald columnist. Reach her at 934-9615