Back in the day, long before the Affordable Care Act, my two children had graduated from college and were experimenting with different career possibilities. This meant that they had health insurance coverage or, more often than not, they were uninsured. Having been in the health insurance business myself, I knew the potential disaster that could result if an uninsured adult child gets really sick or has an accident. As a stopgap for several years, I signed them each up for a $5,000 deductible Blue Cross plan that cost about $40 per month, and I paid for it.
What I was trying to avoid, in my infinite wisdom, was the prospect of having to cover the hospital bills of a child with an uninsured, life-threatening illness. I could see how my family's bad luck might quickly exhaust a lifetime's worth of our savings. I certainly wasn't going to stand by and let one of my children die because they were uninsured.
Beyond the threat of an uninsured health problem, my industry experience had also taught me about the possible insurability issue -- the fact that pre-existing conditions can make insurance unavailable at any cost once you have a black mark in your medical history. For awhile, even serious acne could be the basis for turning down an applicant. I wanted to make sure that my kids could be protected in the future regardless of whether or not they were covered through work. I kept paying for the policies until my children were firmly established in their careers.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, parents won't have to worry any more. We've democratically voted to offer and fund guaranteed coverage for almost all American citizens. What I don't understand is the vehemence with which factions in this country are going to such elaborate lengths to shut down the program.
So far, over $200 million has been spent by a variety of Affordable Care foes. Ed Meese, (remember him?) is reported to have introduced the concept of defunding the health insurance plan by threatening to shut down the government and default on U.S. government debt. To do it, he has enlisted financial support from the usual conservative feeding troughs. What bothers me the most is the massive public relations effort, which includes a campus crusade to encourage young people to opt out of the system. Don't sign up. Burn your fake "Obamacare" card, etc.
For reasons outlined above, if I were still a parent of a young adult I would definitely want them to have insurance even if I had to pay for it myself -- like I had to do at the time.
Going forward, it's a new ballgame. Unlike my experience, however, tomorrow's parents doesn't have to lose sleep at night if their kids aren't covered because those offspring can wait until they get sick and then get coverage. Think of how much the parents might save. ACA anticipated these deadbeats, however, so the opportunity to game the system will be offset by a rising penalty for non-participation.
I can explain the need for the penalty in simple terms. Start with the following clean dish/dirty dish analogy: Two roommates sharing an apartment include one whose natural inclination is to never leave a dirty dish in the sink. The second would otherwise only wash a dish when there are no clean dishes left. Under those circumstances, the dirty dish roommate will never have to wash anything.
The dirty dish people in the Affordable Care scenario are the people who are being encouraged to game the system and who are teed off at having to pay a penalty for the advantage of being able to wait until they're sick to obtain coverage. So be it. The penalty is just the dirty dish guy being forced to contribute toward what had been free housekeeping.
Fortunately, the rest of us should be happy to know that we've joined the industrialized world with a health plan that extends coverage to just about everyone and frees up the ER for real emergencies. The specter of health-related bankruptcies for over 1,000,000 Americans per year or the prospect of being trapped in a lousy job just to maintain insurance benefits has ended once and for all. And for a glimpse into the future, consider that the state of Massachusetts is happy with their Affordable Care plan. If their plan has been a "train wreck," they've had seven years to consider "defunding" it, but you know what? The vast majority love it.
Stephen J. Butler is CEO of Pension Dynamics. Contact him at 925-956-0505, ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.