Well now it’s getting personal: Health care reform hits close to home

Having run my own consulting company for a few years, I have a personal health insurance policy with the ability to lock in my premium for twelve months at a time. As I watched the escalating slingfest over health care in Congress; I realized with no little trepidation that my renewal was coming up in September. The letter came Saturday in a thick padded envelope with "Urgent! Immediate Attention Required!" stamped on the front and the back. Ruh-roh.

Hands shaking, I slid open the packet.

"Dear Ms. Chele, we must inform you that in order to renew your coverage at the same levels, your deductible beginning in 2010 will be $5000, your office visit co-pay will be $100 and hospital co-pay $500. This sets your new monthly premium at $585.36. Should you care to pay in one lump sum for the year, we can offer a 12% discounted rate. In order to take advantage of this rate, you will need to submit payment in full by October 15, 2009. For your convenience, we accept PayPal, MasterCard, Visa as well as personal checks online through our website. We have enclosed the plan documents for your review. We look forward to continuing to meet your medical, dental and prescription needs. Thank you."

Okay, what!? My deductible had been $250. My office co-pay was $25, hospital co-pay $100. My premium had been $147.52 per month. WTF? As I scanned the documents, I realized that not an ounce of coverage from 2009 to 2010 was changing but the costs were exponentially higher. Again, WTF?! Positive that I was misreading something (even though I worked in Human Resources and handled Benefits for many a year), I called my healthcare provider. Thirty minutes later, I was able to speak to a human being. Striving to stay pleasant, I asked why the tripling of premium costs (to start). The customer service representative launched into what was clearly a scripted answer so I cut him off, "Get me a supervisor." "But ma'am –" Cut him off again, "Su-per-vi-sor… NOW!"

Mrs. Bridgeton came on the line and explained that due to my health issues in 2009, my premiums and deductibles were changed accordingly. "What health issues?" I asked. She proceeded to say, "You had the flu twice and you hurt your shoulder, requiring treatments and physical therapy." I was silent waiting for her to continue. Finally I asked, "Is that it?" "Yes, Ms. Chele." **crickets** followed by o__O (side eye) over the phone.

My inner Shaniqua takes over, "So what you are saying is that because I had the flu twice and sprained my shoulder, my deductible is going up 2000%? My premium is tripled and my office visits cost four times as much? Is that really what you are telling me?"

"Oh, I don't think it's 2000%, Ms. Chele. There's no need to get upset."

"Mrs. Bridgeton, I have a calculator right here in front of me and I can assure you it is TWO THOUSAND PERCENT. That is highway robbery. Usury in the extreme and price-gauging at the bare minimum!"

"If you'll just let me do some additional research into your account, I am sure we can come with a plan that you can pay."

"That I can PAY? Are you serious? It's not about whether or not I can pay it?! It's about why the same services I was getting yesterday are going to cost me this much more next week? Am I getting a trip to the freaking fountain of youth? Will a muscled limo driver named Julio be driving me to and from appointments with cocktail service? Is the dentist throwing in a platinum toothbrush with diamond-dust floss? Is it buy one pap smear, get a stomach and thigh liposuction free?!" Yes, I was on an epic rant.

"I apologize for upsetting you," she's back on the script, "please give me 72 hours to research this issue and see if we can reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Is that okay?"

Sounds like some BULLSHIGGITY! But what I said was, "Yes, thank you that will be fine." I hung up and immediately began surfing the web for alternatives. It's ugly out there but I think I can come up with something that won't bankrupt me and nets me more than an aspirin and a band-aid thrown from a drive-thru window once every six months.

What this experience taught me is that President Obama is correct. These companies have gone wild because they can. Something must be done and quickly. I'm too accident prone and allergy-ridden to make do with ace bandages and over the counter meds. Ya'll get out there and call a Congressman (or ten). We gotta make this happen.