Do We Work to Live? Or Do We Work for Health Insurance?

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I'm not sure how my insurance company quantifies the "depreciation" of a 33-year-old woman's body, but apparently it's considerable. For the privilege of turning one year older, I now pay an additional $40 per month for the same lackluster coverage I had last year.

I look at the increasingly visible lines under my eyes and think this is adding insult to injury.

"Don't take it personally," I've been told. "All insurance is going up." And this is true. Even if I was from Ork and turned younger with every passing year, my insurance rate would go up, because everybody's are.

Corporations, once the bastion of good health coverage, are pulling the plug on what we once took for granted--health care coverage. We hear of companies like Ford, which traditionally covered full health benefits but now has to reduce coverage because of skyrocketing insurance rates. And small businesses, which didn't exactly offer the best health care packages to begin with, are cutting them out completely.

Jeff Cornwall, who writes the blog for the Belmont University Center for Entrepreneurship, cites the latest findings on corporate coverage in California, an indicator of the nation in general, as reported in Inc. Magazine.

According to Inc.:

Citing rising costs, a majority of small businesses in California now no longer provide health-care coverage for employees, a new statewide survey shows...

...The California survey, which was released March 2 by the San Francisco-based Union Bank of California, found that 52% of the 2,000 small businesses polled said they no longer offer employee health-care plans -- the first time in the annual survey's six-year history that a majority do not.

Of the 48% of firms that still do provide coverage, about a quarter said rising costs have forced them to shift a larger burden to workers, while reducing overall benefits.

The farther away we move from the corporate model, the harder it is to afford health care. My mother, Joy, who lost her job last year, laments how insurance woes affect unemployed people nearing retirement age:

It's shameful that a person losing their job has to pay through the nose for insurance security; and if they're unfortunate enough to be too young for Medicare/Medicaid and don't have a jobthey are thrown into Healthcare Hell. I never thought I'd actually WANT to be older.fast.

These people face two whammies--age discrimination at work and by insurance companies. Not only is it harder for people in their 50s to find work, it's more expensive not to get work. I was shocked to read in the comments how people have forgone insurance, praying that they wouldn't get hit by a car, or stricken with some illness requiring health care, before they turned 65.

I have a friend nearing 50 who explained to me how he, a seasoned senior executive, has not been able to find a new job. With three kids in or about to go into college, he hesitates to go into consulting and lose a) a steady paycheck, even if he's miserable at work; and b) subsidized insurance.

I think about my friend and start to wonder whether rising insurance rates negates the need to stay at his company. Consider the overall equation:

Miserable corporate job + rising employee co-pays

against:

Being your own boss + ridiculously high insurance rates.

The first equation may seem more advantageous initially, but the more corporate employees will have to pay for insurance the more attractive the second equation will become.

Don't think that I don't know the ramifications of fully paying your own insurance. For families, co-pays rival the mortgage. My co-pays are more than three times what they were when I was a corporate employee for basic checkups, and I foot the bill for all kinds of formerly covered "maintenance" procedures such as pap smears. All of these extras that I have to cover, and all for the privilege of paying 20% more year after year. But at least I'm off the corporate Methadone of subsidized health insurance, a perk that's not so perky these days.

Inc. mentions legislation that, if it passes, will make it easier for small businesses to band together and gain more competitive insurance rates collectively. How about self-employeds? How about older people who've lost their jobs?

If you want to read more on insurance for aging workers, you must read Ronni Bennet's blog posts on health care.

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