By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
When D.J. Brooks got a letter in the mail from Group Health in Washington state, he wasn’t surprised his health insurance plan was being dropped and a new, comparable plan would cost a lot more.
Brooks wasn’t happy the cost jumped from $444 a month to $876. His rates were set to rise as he entered a new age bracket, but he didn’t anticipate them going that high. What bothered Brooks more was a feeling his ability to choose his health insurance was being stripped away.
Brooks, 55 a Seattle resident, considers himself a policy minimalist. He and his wife stay healthy and in turn bought basic individual insurance to keep costs down. If something major happened — cancer or a heart attack — he said they would have been covered.
That option of slimmed down, cheaper insurance is now gone, thanks to mandates set in place by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Like millions of other Americans, Brooks can either pay more for a plan that was comparable to his last or shop for new insurance in the private market or through the state based exchange,where he might find a more affordable plan.
But then he might have to find a new doctor, in a new network. And he likes Group Health. He likes that the company has a database of his family’s medical information and that he could choose not to pay more for more coverage.
“As an American, look, if I want to drive a Cadillac I can drive a Cadillac. If I want to drive a Corolla, I will drive a Corolla,” he told Northwest Watchdog. “That’s my choice. Don’t take away my choice. That’s the part that really, really pisses me off. My freedom, my liberty, my choice has been taken away .”
The Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner estimates about 290,000 Washington residents will see their health plans dropped in the individual market. About half of those will qualify for government subsidies to help them pay for health insurance.
Now that Obamacare is in effect, insurance companies with plans that don’t meet the essential health benefits required under the law are dropping those to meet the mandate. Plans will cost more because they provide more. Many plans will include family dental, maternity care, vision, mental health, a higher percentage of medical costs covered, less out of pocket pay and prescription drug coverage.
“If you really use health care, its’ a good deal for you,” said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the insurance commissioner’s office. “The idea is give people some basic benefits.”
She said she has encountered many Washington residents who thought they were covered under their individual plans for basic services only to find out they weren’t. She referenced a woman who became pregnant and found out she wouldn’t be covered by her insurance because pregnancy was considered a preexisting condition.
Under the new health law, an insurance company cannot deny coverage based on preexisting conditions.
Brooks gets it. He understands why his insurance cost could go up.
“It’s because you’re getting a beefier plan and the costs to insurance companies is going up because of all these people that weren’t in the pool,” he said. “Let’s face it, there are reasons why they weren’t in the pool. That’s going to cost money.”
Marquis said she empathizes with healthy people who want cheaper plans but said “no one’s immune from back luck.”
She said getting basic benefits to everyone only works if the pool is large enough to make costs go down. For example, if only pregnant women bought maternity health care coverage, no one could afford it, she said.
The change in his ability to choose a lesser insurance plan prompted Brooks to give his congressmen a piece of his mind.
“I just blasted them. I said this is ridiculous,” he said. This is not what you guys promised.”
Other politicians are feeling the sting of this part of Obamacare. President Obama is taking a lot of heat for his promise that Americans could keep their health insurance if they like it under the new law.
Clearly, not everyone can.
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org
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