Now that I am finally a Medicare beneficiary I want to take a look back at the trip to get here. I will also be looking at how we do our healthcare relative to the rest of the industrial world. Let’s begin this journey.
I have learned from experience that healthcare needs definitely increase as you get older. I joke that I think my warranty expired when I turned sixty. I am sure that I have been to the doctor more in the last five years than I had for the previous sixty combined. When I started out my adult life my healthcare was basically free to me. That is the “large telecommunications company” I worked for picked up the tab for my insurance. At that stage of my life health insurance was not very important to me. I think I went for a twelve-year stretch where I didn’t even see a doctor except for maybe a dentist or two. At that time the cost to the company was not that great so even if I had to use a medical facility I would not have been required to pay anything for it.
Then beginning in the 1980s (it seems like so many things started happening in the 80’s??) that healthcare costs started to rise and I was required to pay a small co-pay when I went to a doctor. About that time I had some ear surgery but it did not affect my wallet much. Finally in the early 1990s things started heating up in this area. I started having to pay for a portion of my healthcare insurance. My share was somewhere in the range of $30/month and increased to about $40/month by the end of the decade.
When I was downsized and retired in 2000 my pension plan required that I pay $40/month toward my insurance. At this point things started escalating. From 2000 until I went on Medicare recently my portion of the cost rose about 25% per year throughout the period. That is it went from $40/month to almost $500/month during the decade. Finally with Medicare in force my overall healthcare insurance is less than half what I paid this year. I’m sure that at least until we drastically change your healthcare system my costs for healthcare will continue to increase but not nearly as rapidly as I was paying with private insurance.
That brings me to the whole concept of employer based health insurance. The U.S. is about the only country in the world that puts this burden on employers. Almost all of our foreign competitors are free of this burden. Could that be one of the reasons that we can no longer seem to compete in the world’s markets? One of the solutions employers have used to solve this problem is to quit providing insurance to their employees. But, this leads to even more serious consequences of their being two distinct classes of people; those who can afford healthcare and those who can’t. That is healthcare is now considered a privilege instead of a right of citizenship as it is in much of the rest of the world. Some of this is ameliorated by the healthcare bill of last year but since the Republicans are dead set on taking away even those gains I don’t have much hope for any other advances in this area. That is until we bring some common sense and compassion back into our politics.
We have to find our way out of this mess someday. Dare we emulate the successful strategy of our foreign friends who are not subjected to these ever escalating rates?