One thing I’m not looking forward to during Thanksgiving this year is my mom, a retired public high school teacher in Maryland, well-meaningly elbow-jabbing me during dinner to advise me that now that Obama’s been elected, soon, if I really work at it, I might be finally be able to get a real job. To her, a real job has only one major quality that distinguishes it from other, non-real jobs (including the freelance work I currently do more than full time): it offers a good health insurance plan. I graduated from college the same year George W. Bush was first elected, and since then, every year the politically victimized, indignant teenager in me has retorted by reminding my mom that, counter to her generationally naïve understanding of how the American job market currently works, our employers simply don’t offer the kind of generous health insurance plans that she and my college professor dad have been fortunate enough to enjoy uninterruptedly since the 1960s.
In front of my mom, I turn my two options—to either shell out thousands of dollars from my own pocket every year to pay for health coverage that, bureaucracy-wise, is next to impossible to even use, or simply go without it—into a matter of personal pride, and go around acting like it’s somehow politically empowering to make this choice. In reality, though, I couldn’t be more ashamed of the way our country takes care of its citizens’ health; how far down the road of total unsustainability we have let our health care system go.
This year, as Mike Ferrara and I have been talking about here on the blog, fewer than 60% of American employers with 200 employees are even offering employee health coverage, period. Of those that are, the numbers coming in just in time for Thanksgiving tell a foreboding (I should say sickening) story. High-deductible plans, with deductibles for a single employee as high as $1,000 and even $2,500 a year (families can go as high as $7,500) are becoming the new standard everywhere, with over 100 large companies (including Nissan and Delta Airlines) and several hundred smaller ones offering them as their employees’ solitary health care option.
President Bush has encouraged employers to adopt such high-deductible plans as a “consumer-directed” way to curb employer health care spending, reasoning that because employees have to spend up to their deductible every year before their insurance kicks in, they will make “smarter” decisions about where to spend their healthcare dollars, avoiding frivolous emergency room visits and expensive yet unnecessary diagnostic tests.
This is great. Let’s curb health care spending by making it economically unfeasible for people to go to the doctor when they need to. Maybe while we’re at it, we can curb public education spending by implementing an exorbitant road tax on all school-bound children.