Op-ed: How Obamacare made health care affordable for me

Op-ed: How Obamacare made health care affordable for me
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-27 06:00:06-05

Grace Dobush is a freelance journalist specializing in tech, design and politics. Follow her on Twitter @GraceDobushToGo.

When I first got health insurance, I didn’t know what to do with it.

“THIS IS NOT A BILL,” declared the exceedingly bill-like Explanation of Benefits for my first regular checkup in years. Stymied, I called Blue Cross Blue Shield: “So … when do I get a bill?” I asked the cheerful but confused call center lady, who assured me it would arrive soon from my doctor.

I remember going to the pediatrician for strep throat or ear infections or vaccines as a kid, but my parents paid out of pocket. I had no concept of what health coverage might cost or how it might work until I got it through my first job at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2006.

Grace Dobush

As I figured out the system over the next 10 years, the plans available to me became more expensive and less comprehensive. When I quit my job to freelance in 2012, I had high-deductible health insurance bought through a broker, comparable to a Bronze Obamacare plan. Once the Obamacare marketplace opened up, I got my plans there -- basically whatever was most affordable.

I make too much money to qualify for a subsidy, but seeing all my options in one place is invaluable. As a self-employed entrepreneur, if I’m not working, I’m not making money. I need to know that if I’m injured or ill I can get to a doctor and on the path to recovery as quickly as possible.

How The Numbers Work For Me

I’m a relatively healthy 34-year-old woman with no children. I pay $208.26 per month for my health premium (plus another $30.10 for dental), with an annual deductible of $6,650. As an established freelance writer, I make a (highly volatile) average of $40,000 annually before taxes.

Best-case scenario, my health care expenses account for about 7 percent of my annual income. But if I had a medical situation that racked up charges to hit my out-of-pocket maximum, that’d be $10,000, a whopping 25 percent of my pre-tax income.

Because I’ve been lucky when it comes to my health, I’m gambling. But no one can predict what future tyrannies our bodies have in store for us. You see it in the multitudes of GoFundMe campaigns for health care emergencies. Some hit or exceed their fundraising goals, but plenty don’t. That’s great if a person has a wide network of contacts who can donate money, but relying on it as a form of health insurance is essentially guaranteeing bankruptcy for uninsured people who are less well-connected.

Repeal Would Be Disastrous

Health insurance works a lot like herd immunity: The more people who buy in, the better it works for everyone. If anything, America needs to add more people to the herd and make sure that this basic human right to health care is truly affordable.

A repeal of Obamacare would be disastrous for this nation’s already perilous health. If anything, we need a more comprehensive system for ensuring Americans are insured.

In addition to the 2.5 million poor Americans who fall into the gap between Medicaid coverage and marketplace subsidies, innumerable working people find even the subsidized premiums to be a financial burden.

My parents still don’t have health insurance, like 6.5 percent of Ohioans. They opted to pay the fine rather than buy a health plan, even though they likely would have qualified for a subsidy. They feel that it’s taking a stand against something they don’t need because they’re not sick. With only a few medical issues in recent history, they’ve been “lucky.” Luckily for me and my brother, they’re entering the age of Medicare eligibility. A catastrophic illness would take all of us down.

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, I won’t be around to experience the affects firsthand. In a few weeks I’m moving to Germany, where the premium for nationalized health care is set as a percentage of your salary: about 15 percent with an income cap, and half paid by your employer. There is no annual deductible and only minimal copays.

I’m looking forward to knowing that I can’t be bankrupted by a hospitalization. I only wish I could bring my parents with me.