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Where’s the ‘right to choose’ when it comes to health insurance?

Covered California executive director speaks in downtown SLO

Covered California executive director Peter V. Lee was in San Luis Obispo on Friday, November 3, 2017, promoting the current health insurance open enrollment period.
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Covered California executive director Peter V. Lee was in San Luis Obispo on Friday, November 3, 2017, promoting the current health insurance open enrollment period.

A popular commercial comes to mind where the lead actress quasi-sings, “Tell us what you want to pay-ay-ay, and we’ll find coverage options to fit your budget.”

Her character’s name, Flo, seems omnipresent in TV and radio commercials for an insurance company known as (interestingly) Progressive. They’re the people who offer the “name your price tool” when buying auto insurance.

That got me to musing: Where are the similarly themed ads for health insurance?

The answer is self-evident.

For starters, our federal government is heavily involved in one area — but not so much the other. While people can choose auto insurance from among a plethora of companies across the country, in San Luis Obispo County my wife and I had only one healthcare choice in 2019: Blue Shield of California. Such lack of competition had a predictably detrimental effect on monthly rates.

Naturally, rates are influenced by many factors, including whether we qualified for a government subsidy. We didn’t.

Does that mean we’re “rich”? Hardly.

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We’re middle-class folks, living on a semi-fixed income, who could not afford any of the plans Blue Shield offered. Their lowest priced plan was $1,437 a month, with an individual deductible of $7,900 a year. That translated into an annual potential out-of-pocket expense of $33,000 before receiving any insurance benefits. That would have done substantial damage to our standard of living. And to think, just four years ago, we used to pay less than $2,000 a year for healthcare insurance with a significantly smaller deductible!

I recently saw a TV commercial by Covered California that proclaimed, “Enrollees pay an average of $5 per day.”

Really!? So, the average enrollee pays — for an entire year — roughly what we would have been required to pay every month!

Is that what “health justice for all” looks like, where a retired middle-class family is forced to subsidize the healthcare costs of others, while receiving no benefits ourselves?

This issue affects many people across the state. To add insult to injury, our new governor wants to expand “free” healthcare to illegal immigrants up to age 26, restore the individual mandate and tax penalty, and move to a single-payer government-controlled “universal healthcare” plan.

In announcing his far-left proposals, Gov. Newsom didn’t provide a cost estimate to implement them. Given government’s track record in over-regulating healthcare, it’s fair to say that either taxes or insurance rates, or both, will be going much higher.

Guess what, millennials? You’ll eventually be paying more, too, directly or indirectly. Please be sure to pat yourselves on the back if you helped elect this “progressive” governor.

Is it any wonder Californians are fleeing this state in record numbers? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California lags behind only New York in the number of net “out-migration” in 2018. That number has been steadily increasing since 2011, the result of many factors traceable to California’s liberal/progressive/socialistic policies. I expect policies like Newsom’s will accelerate that trend.

What’s the solution for making healthcare insurance more affordable?

I suppose conservatives would call it “freedom” and liberals might call it “right to choose.” A free market would provide various coverage options, including a robust range of pricing options, offered by numerous insurance companies across the nation.

For instance, all my wife and I need is a catastrophic healthcare plan. But we cannot buy one because we don’t qualify for a “hardship exemption.” Can we buy a plan that covers only what we want? Nope. We have to purchase a plan containing “essential benefits” like mental health and substance abuse services, maternity and newborn care and pediatric services; i.e., things we definitely neither want nor need.

Can we buy a plan designed for people with no expensive pre-existing conditions? Nope. No freedom, no right to choose.

If healthcare were a right, then people would have the freedom to choose the insurance they want based on what they can afford. Government’s role would be limited to ensuring that right.

We would very much like to buy healthcare insurance. We can afford to pay something, but not anything approaching $33,000 per year.

There’s an unsettling feeling of vulnerability that comes with not having insurance two years in a row now. It’s a travesty that affordable insurance is not available unless you’re either rich or poor.

Among many others, no doubt, we’re caught in the middle … until we face a healthcare crisis that puts us on the “poor” side of that equation. That would cause people like us to be added to the list of people who’ve become dependent on government. Just maybe, that’s the long-game progressives are playing.

Progressives should listen to Flo, take a cue from Progressive, and create the conditions where people can find healthcare coverage options to fit their budget. Any politcos out there listening?

Ed Bogusch is a writer and a retired business analyst and purchasing manager for Lockheed Martin. He writes a conservative column for The Tribune approximately once a month, in rotation with liberal columnist Tom Fulks.

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