My single greatest fear when I waded into early retirement was what I would do about health insurance. I want to consider myself a generally healthy person. Except for my “horrifyingly low” levels of Vitamin D, my yearly physicals turn up nothing worrisome. I easily walk 4 kilometers a day just to get to and from work. I love Pilates. I am only slightly underweight. When I started working on the early retirement bucket list goal, I only needed an eye exam, new contacts and a yearly physical. I spent around $200 a year for all this.
Unfortunately, when I entered my 30’s, my body decided to FREAK OUT over items it previously did not give a shit about. All of a sudden, a combination of factors only known to my immune system, would make my eyes swell shut, my skin break out in hives and my throat itch.
An emergency room visit, mandatory epinephrine-carrying instructions and half a dozen allergy tests later, I still have very little idea on how to completely prevent these attacks. My silver lining is that I can read the signals of distress early and prevent the episodes from getting serious.
I go to the doctor wherever I want, whenever I want, and for whatever I want. I don’t consider the cost. For that reason, I admit that I was actually a little afraid to run the numbers on my health spending the last three years.
In 2013, living in Chicago with good health insurance and a sensitive immune system, I spent out of pocket just under $1000 for co-pays, deductibles, and other just-because fees. A healthy chunk of this number was an ambulance bill insurance decided that I needed to pay.
In 2014, living in Sydney with startlingly good health insurance, I spent $110 out of pocket. But, here’s the glorious caveat. I paid out of pocket initially for everything from epinephrine pens to doctor visits to allergy tests to blood work to therapists. For this reason, I know exactly how much I would have paid without insurance. I put the expenses on my credit card, emailed a claim form and a copy of my receipt and hoped I would get reimbursed. Even without thought to my medical consumption and paying the “retail” price, I spent just under $900.
So far in 2015, still living in Sydney and “stocking up” on my medications and exploring minor surgery options, I spent $30. If I did not have insurance, I would have spent just under $1700.
Reasons I almost cried in relief when I calculated these numbers.
- Those amounts are very reasonable! None of these figures would break me if I had to pay them.
- The actual numbers are most definitely *lower* than what I calculated. For example, I included pharmacy visits when I picked up my Vitamin D tablets, but that receipt also included toiletries.
- I know I could have, if necessary, cut that number in half and not affected my life negatively. I went to the doctor closest to my apartment instead of the cheaper one by work for prescription refills. I continued to have allergy testing done even after it became painfully clear that these tests could not tell me what foods and environments to avoid (short answer: everything). I spoke to my therapist even after I had made the decision I wanted her unbiased advice on.
Relief in hand, I went to ehealthinsurance.com, plugged in some details, poured over the fine prints, questioned a helpful chat representative no less than four times, compared plans and came out with a health insurance plan that cost me just over $200 per month. I have a $6,000 deductible and mostly 0% coinsurance after that.
So now I’m insured, but the nagging anxiety still occasionally unsettles me. When the negative thoughts overwhelm me, I do a bit more research. Even if I were working somewhere and had amazing health insurance, I could go bankrupt from a serious medical problem in the United States. Those medical horror stories that make me cower in fear quite often star insured people. The medication is now 5,000 times more expensive because the pharmaceutical company changed hands. The hospital might be in network, but the surgeon isn’t. The sheer bureaucracy alone makes me want to cry.
In the end, I could not let the holey safety net prevent me from living my life. I am not going to work a job only for the health insurance.
Here’s a teaser for my next insurance-related article: health savings accounts! My blog is so exciting, I know.