Friday, October 16, 2009

Paying through the nose –

– for private health insurance

Like most other dairy farmers, we've been cutting costs everywhere we possibly can. Lately, we started to take a look at reducing the cost of our health insurance by switching to a new plan with a higher deductible. Last April when our policy was renewed, we opted to stay with our current plan, rather than switch to Blue Cross Blue Shield's new plan – which is only offered with a minimum deductible level $500 more than our current plan. (Our current plan is being phased out.) We really didn't expect to be a financial pinch for quite this long. So we started looking at the options for our family under the new plan.

I usually don't have to think about how much we're paying for health insurance because our premium is automatically paid each month. But since we've been looking into a switch, I've been thinking about it daily. With milk prices where they're at, it takes 6,000 pounds of milk to pay our monthly premium – even more if you deduct production expenses first. Next year it will cost even more. In the four years we've had private health insurance Glen's and my portion of the premium has increased almost $200 a month.

The worst part, however, isn't the price – it's the policy terms. We had group health insurance coverage while Glen worked for the state. After applying for private coverage when we started farming, we learned that not all health insurance policies are equal. We found out I was pregnant shortly after applying for health insurance; Blue Cross Blue Shield spent eight weeks investigating my health records to make sure the pregnancy hadn't started before we applied before they would grant us coverage. BCBS considers pregnancy a pre-existing condition. Furthermore, the company won't cover any maternity expenses for the first 18 months of coverage. That's the part that irks me the most. Group health insurance customers aren't subject to waiting periods for coverage. That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, which was probably for the better, because the medical expenses that would have come with that baby's birth would have crippled us financially. Dan was born 12 days after our 18-month maternity-coverage ban ended.

Health insurance is one of those necessary evils of self-employment. We can't risk not having health insurance, so we're at the mercy of the health insurance companies' outrageous rates, annual premium hikes and discriminatory policies.

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