Monday, December 6, 2010

The Old Man and the Health Insurance Policy

Matt Kailey is a transman living in Denver, Colorado, and an author, public speaker, and trainer on transgender issues. He blogs at Tranifesto. In his ideal world, no one would be equal to anyone else – everyone would just be equal.

I realize that any complaint about my health insurance comes from a place of privilege, because, as a resident of the United States, I'm lucky to have any kind of health insurance at all. 

I have, in fact, had some kind of health insurance my entire life, and many people would consider themselves lucky to have my kind of gripes. Nevertheless, we tend to complain at the level of our privilege. I have no grievance about my private jet, my BMW, or even my iPad - I don't have them and can't afford them. 

And there are going to be plenty more things I can't afford now that my insurance rates have gone up. It's not because I'm trans (most insurance doesn't pay for trans-related care anyway). My insurance company is punishing me because I'm getting old.

Apparently, in health-insurance land, 55 is the magic age for major physical deterioration. I hit that milestone this year, and my rates took a major hike. And, in one of the few areas where age discrimination can still be overt and in writing, my employer, who carries my policy, was informed that my severely increased rate was strictly age related.
I can understand this from an insurance-company standpoint - the longer you live, the more likely it is that you're going to get sick, and the more likely it is that you're going to develop something expensive. They charge by risk - by how much they might have to shell out for some old-guy disease.

The irony is that, in my small office, among fellow employees who range in age from 23 to 47 (I am by far the oldest), I am usually the only one who has sick leave left over at the end of the year. In fact, this year, I am losing 48 hours of sick leave - I very rarely get sick, and I probably won't get a 6-day illness before we ring in the new year. 

By contrast, the young 'uns in my office are constantly coming down with something. Their immune systems are not built up from years of exposure to various illnesses (and as a former social worker and teacher, I've been exposed to them all). 

So now, the guy who never calls in sick is costing his employer more money and getting a bigger bite taken out of his paycheck than anyone else - all because of an arbitrary standard based on a man-made (yes, it is man-made) calendar.

How old would I be if we didn't measure life in years - or at all? And how would insurance companies then figure out how much to charge me?

If you added up all the health insurance premiums that my parents, my employers, and I have paid for me over the last 55 years against how much money the insurance companies have had to dole out for my care, I would, so far, be owed a significant refund. 

I don't mind not getting that refund. As with Social Security and our other struggling social programs, I don't mind paying into the pot that allows those who need the funds to receive them. 

But I would be a lot less grumpy about it if my excess insurance dollars (and my tax dollars) went to pay for coverage for those in the U.S. who don't have any health insurance at all - at last count, over 50 million, including 7 million children. 

People age. People get sick - at any age. There are a variety of risk factors, along with illnesses that can strike at any time. And preventative care, along with quality care for illness and other medical needs, should be available to anyone, regardless of age or life circumstance. 

It seems to me that the people most opposed to universal health care in the U.S. are those who are already guaranteed health coverage (government officials), those who can afford to be sick, with or without coverage (the wealthy), or those who already receive a form of “socialized medicine,” but refuse to acknowledge that that's what it is (Tea Partiers on Medicare). 

As for the rest of us, those who are lucky enough to have insurance (like me) will keep paying more just for staying alive. 

And those who are unlucky (like 7 million children) will continue to wait in long lines at the few places available to help them, or they will go without, while the politicians, businesses, and special interest groups in one of the wealthiest countries in the world fight over who is entitled to live and who is not - and how much we should pay for that privilege.