Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cal COBRA

Cathy Seipp has been writing about her frustrations with medical insurance - her insurance company raises the yearly maximum out of pocket payment to $7,500, forcing people who are ill to pay this yearly sum, while favoring the healthy, and then, refusing to pay for a treatment labeled as experimental for her type of cancer.

I completely sympathize on both accounts, however, in the argument, Cathy makes a somewhat self-righteous remark indicating that all this is happening to her even though she did the right thing - bought insurance when she was still healthy, and maintained it throughout the years.

That's where I feel her argument falls flat. She's putting herself in the category of those who have done the right thing - bought insurance - vs. those that haven't. But's that's not the way these things work.

The irony is that freelancers like Cathy, who have been doing it since they were quite young, have bought into insurance policies that cannot drop them like a hot potato when medical conditions arise.

Let's compare to your average corporate employee - the low or middle or high income person who has insurance through their workplace. Now let's assume that for whatever reason (illness or layoffs or desire to do something independent), this person lost their job.

Well, they have health insurance for another 18 months through COBRA, (they have to pay for it, but they do have it), but after that, all bets are off. It can be virtually impossible for them to find insurance. They've been dropped from the rolls of the insured and that's it.

So what's the solution? Well. Ideally, everyone would buy insurance privately when they're young, just like the freelancers, and then they too could not be dropped if they lost or left their jobs. Why don't people do it? Because most people who are employed by corporations have the majority of their insurance fees paid for them by the employer. Buying it on their own doesn't seem to make sense.

And what's the solution - instead of having company's pay for their employee's insurance, they give the employee an allowance that the employee can use to buy their own. Then they're not subject to the whims of hirings and firings and job changes. Of course employers are somewhat loath to do that, they know that insurance can tie people to their jobs, but from a public interest perspective, that's the way it should be done.

Consider the other benefits. Singles won't feel that they're subsidizing the health insurance of their married and/or married with children co-workers. And people will be able to buy the insurance that they want - if they want a more premium policy, they pay more.

But of course the major benefit is the first one that I talked about. The insurance company cannot drop them or exclude their pre-existing conditions, as long as these conditions did not exist before they first obtained the policy.

And what about people who already have pre-existing conditions? I'll have to write about that in a separate blog entry.

But here's a bit of info. The IEEE (the professional association of Electronics Engineers) offers its members insurance with no pre-existing condition exclusion as long as they've been members of the IEEE for at least two consecutive years. And California extends COBRA coverage, through Cal COBRA, up to 36 months. So guess what an electronic engineer with a pre-existing condition and COBRA coverage can do...

I know most readers here are not engineers, but perhaps your professional organization has something similar...

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