Well, it’s official. The cost to insure my family now exceeds the size of my wife’s paycheck. To many of you who are in the unenviable position of having to self-insure your families, this comes as no surprise. Keeping covered is very expensive. To those of us whose health care is dependent upon our jobs — and really, that’s most of us with jobs — insuring ourselves has not been a big deal. When it comes to our families, however, that’s often a different story.
Many of us who work in the Jewish community think of it as a calling. There’s a certain amount of pride and a sense of belonging in furthering the goals of the Jewish community — we take it personally. At the same time, we enter this world knowing we could get paid much better in the for-profit sector, and historically the benefits — both the kind provided by our employers and the kind of knowing the work we do makes a difference — have been pretty good. Until recently.
The JTNews staff is insured under the health plan of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, meaning the rates for employees is next to nothing — and it’s great. But to add my family to that plan would cost me over $1,000 per month. No thanks. Insuring families with other Jewish agencies isn’t much better — and in some cases it’s worse.
But because we made a choice — for my wife to work part-time so she can be home with our child — that would seem like the obvious way to get my family covered. The alternative, that she get coverage with a full-time job, would be nearly negated by what it would cost us to put our son in day care.
So we found another alternative, private insurance, nearly the same plan at a third of the cost of what the Federation would be able to provide. And for a couple of years that was fine — not cheap, but manageable. Then last year, the rates jumped. This month, they’re jumping again. And when we have our second child this October, they’ll jump even more. So through next July, unless there’s some miracle of modern health care, we’ll be shelling out 700 bucks a month — more than double what we were paying 14 months ago.
And we’re not alone. I know plenty of other people who, though they may have decent jobs or consider themselves contractors or self-employed (even if they have a place of work), have to insure themselves. They too are feeling the sting of the ever-increasing insurance policy.
Our state’s insurance commissioner made a big deal about gaining authority on approving insurers’ rate increases when the governor signed Senate Bill 5261 earlier this year.
“Consumers who purchase their own health insurance can rest easier today knowing someone is watching over the shoulder of the health plans,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a statement in April on his office’s Web site. “For eight years, anyone who purchased their own health insurance had to take the word of the health insurers on blind faith. Under the new law, consumers will know that someone took a careful look and made sure that the rate they’re charged is justified.”
But who’s watching over the shoulder of the insurance commissioner? Kreidler last month approved a 17.8 percent increase for Regence-Blue Shield, according to a June 12 report by the Seattle Times. Regence, incidentally, reported a nearly $900 million surplus in its most recent financial statement filed with the state. And they want more? That sits on the backs of a middle class that is already being pressured by increases in gasoline, food prices, and, coming soon, even bus fare. At what point do we say we’ve had enough?
I say that time is now. If my family, which is stuck in the middle class in the Bush economy, needs to choose between health insurance — a necessity that provides for the present — and preparing for retirement and college — a necessity that provides for the future — what’s the first to go? It’s not going to be the health insurance. Add on top of that our other necessities: groceries, mortgage, utilities, nursery school, the occasional movie and dinner out. Something has to give.
I’ve got friends at places like Microsoft who don’t have to think about this stuff. Their families are fully covered at no charge. And to hear people who work in the Seattle-area technology sector say it, even the small startups recognize that to gain the best employees they need to offer family-friendly benefits even greater than the Redmond behemoth. That’s a lesson local agencies must learn if they want to draw in and retain talented, committed employees to truly do the important work they need to do.
I know that our local agencies have their hands tied in what they can afford to provide their employees while providing for our community’s needs. They’re just as stuck as I am, but maybe bringing several smaller organizations under Federation’s umbrella could increase buying power and bring down rates. As the de facto lobbying organization for the Jewish community, shouldn’t Federation also make affordable health care a priority on its legislative agenda? The newly created Sound Alliance has already announced its intention to do so.
Both presidential candidates have detailed plans to improve health care nationwide, but I’m not holding my breath that we’ll see anything happen anytime in the near future. Smart policy requires then that the states will have to ensure their citizens are covered by at Both presidential candidates have detailed plans to improve health care nationwide, but I’m not holding my breath that we’ll see anything happen anytime in the near future. Smart policy requires then that the states will have to ensure their citizens are covered by at least a basic health care plan. Kreidler, Washington’s insurance commissioner, has a plan he’d like to see passed in next year’s legislative session, and while it’s not going to take the burden off of my own situation — it truly is a basic plan that covers catastrophic care more than anything else — it’s a start. And, more importantly, with the tighter squeeze that the majority of us are beginning to experience (if we haven’t been feeling it already), it’s time to let our health insurers know that enough is enough.