Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My Halloween horror story October 31, 2019

From a Halloween display in Hayfield, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHAT SCARES YOU? I mean really scares you.

Is it the current state of our political climate? Climate change? Changes in your personal life? Life that feels overwhelming? Overwhelmingly high health insurance rates?

There’s so much to concern us. And I would place check marks in front of several items on that list, the most recent being health insurance premiums. Ours are increasing again. And I am seriously stressing about the additional $120/month we will pay for insurance that is nothing but a catastrophic plan. Our deductibles will rise from $4,000 each to $4,250 each come January 1.

I don’t pretend to be good at math. Words are my thing. But no matter that lack of skill set, I understand that the health insurance premium numbers are not good for our budget and have not been for years. I joke with my husband that he will need to pay his employer to work for him given the amount deducted from paychecks for insurance. Randy’s employer pays half of his premium, none of mine. I’m on Randy’s plan because I’m self-employed.

Now let me show you the numbers: In 2020, our monthly premiums will each be $1,149 for a total of $2,298 every single month. Of that, we will pay $1,723/month, which totals $20,677/year. And then we have those $4,250 individual deductibles before the insurance even kicks in.

This is absolutely absurd. There are no other words to describe the financial challenges we are facing because of health insurance rates that are through the roof ridiculous. No wonder we don’t go on big vacations, drive vehicles that are 15 and 17 years old, seldom dine out, have a vintage kitchen in need of a complete re-do, windows that need replacing, siding that needs paint or replacement…and don’t want to go to the doctor because we can’t afford to go to the doctor. Much of our income is funneled directly to the health insurance company rather than being pumped into the general economy. Sigh.

I never thought that at our age—in our early 60s—we would be in this financial situation because of health insurance premiums.

So what am I doing about this? Screaming, venting, crying, stressing. But I’ve also set up an appointment with a MNsure navigator to see if we qualify for any type of financial assistance. When I checked a few years back, that proved fruitless. I’m not especially hopeful this time either.

There you go, my financial horror story just in time for Halloween. I am thankful Randy and I both grew up in really poor families so we are not materialistic. We manage to pay all of our bills, get food on the table…and still donate to charities. We paid off our home mortgage years ago and I’m thankful we did.

But we never expected this overwhelming financial burden as we looked to the future and are nearing retirement.

This Halloween I’m not scared of things that go bump in the night. I’m scared of health insurance premiums.

THOUGHTS? Do you have similar health insurance horror stories?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As health insurance costs rise, so does my personal financial concern November 1, 2017

 

EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, my blood pressure temporarily spikes in response to my anger. Anger about ever-rising health insurance premiums depleting our family pocketbook faster than a pick pocket.

I’ve vented and raged and spewed my discontent here. My jaw drops. My mind thinks a few unprintable words. My stress rises. How can we continue to pay these astronomical premiums and still have money for basic needs like food, gas, utilities, clothes, etc?  I am thankful Randy and I paid off our mortgage decades ago, that our three kids are out of college and independent, that we’re OK driving aging (2003 and 2005) vehicles… We’ve always been, out of necessity, fiscally conservative, just as we were raised within poor rural families.

Let’s break it down. Health insurance premiums for my husband and me (I’m on his work plan) will go up $190 from $873/month to $1,000/month in 2018. That’s for each of us. Randy’s employer pays half his premium, $500. So we will shell out $1,500/month, or $18,000/annually. But before insurance kicks in, we must pay $3,600 each in deductibles. Alright then.

Let’s recrunch those numbers. In reality, our premiums are $1,300/month each if we need medical care and reach our deductibles. Times two, that’s $2,600/month or $31,200/year. Subtract the $6,000 Randy’s employer pays for his insurance and we’re down to $25,200. Still.

This year I met my $3,700 deductible. But I paid out $14,176 in premiums and deductible for around $4,000 (maybe a bit more; some bills haven’t processed yet) in medical expenses. I’m no math whiz. But even I can see that makes zero financial sense.

Holy, cow.

Somehow we’ve managed on a modest income, Randy’s as an automotive machinist and mine as a self-employed photographer and writer. But these latest insurance premium hikes are pushing us to a financial breaking point. I need to figure out an alternative to the $1,500 to be deducted from Randy’s paychecks each month for health insurance in 2018. Our incomes are not increasing to meet this through-the-roof expense.

My kneejerk brainstorming produced the following options and reactions:

  • Go without health insurance. Not a good idea given our ages and the financial risk.
  • Find jobs with better benefits. At age 61, that’s unlikely.
  • Take on second part-time jobs.
  • Use a Christian-based health cost sharing plan. A strong possibility that requires additional investigation.

Our eldest daughter suggested we move to Canada with its publicly-financed healthcare. I know little about that system. But in a recent conversation with a Canadian visiting her brother here in Minnesota, I heard all about the shortage of doctors and the months of waiting to see one. Even if you’re seriously ill. No, thank you. Besides, I won’t move that far from my granddaughter.

There you go. Now, on to the research, the discussions, the continuing frustration and anger and stress and number crunching that each autumn overtake me.

I’ve joked with Randy that soon he’ll pay his employer to work because nothing will remain of his paychecks. I wish that statement didn’t feel uncomfortably close to reality.

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AS BAD AS THE RATE HIKES would be for us, I know it could be worse. I’ve seen rates from a major carrier for individual off-exchange health insurance in my county of Rice and seven other southern Minnesota counties. If I chose the bronze plan (least expensive) with a $6,650 deductible, my monthly premium would be $1,361. Take that premium and deductible times two (there would be no subsidy from Randy’s employer) and our health coverage would cost $45,964 before medical bills would be covered. Holy cow. Who can afford that? Not us.

I realize many of you, especially self-employed small business owners or employees of small businesses, are dealing with the same absurd health insurance premiums. I don’t have an answer. I just know that the escalating cost of health insurance is creating a personal financial crisis for many of us. Additionally, because of those costs and matching high deductibles, we can’t afford medical care. Now does that make sense?

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TELL ME: Are you dealing with/facing similar skyrocketing health insurance premiums? I’d like to hear about your situation and what you are doing. Are you going without insurance? Selected another option? Found a job with better benefits? Whatever you have done, or haven’t, I’m listening.

Please note that I moderate all comments. So please keep the discussion on topic and civil.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When you can no longer afford health insurance… October 26, 2016

I live on one of Faribault's busiest residential streets, also a main route for the ambulance which is based near my home.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ABOUT A YEAR AGO, I penned a post expressing my outrage at the ever-rising cost of health insurance.

I expected those costs to stabilize. I was wrong. So here I am, writing and agonizing again about insurance rates that are through the roof nearly unaffordable for my husband and me.

Beginning on January 1, our monthly premiums will total $1,746, of which we will pay $1,310. Add in $3,700 deductibles for each of us and you can see the financial ridiculousness of this plan. Before we can benefit from this health insurance offered through Randy’s employer, we will spend thousands and thousands of dollars. Like $14,176 for me and $8,944 for Randy since his employer pays half ($437/month) of his premium.

We are not wealthy. Nor are we poor. We are lower middle income. I am self-employed. Randy has worked the same job for more than 30 years. His benefits are minimal.

This year we both turned sixty, bumping us up on January 1, 2017, into a newer and higher premium bracket. Lucky us.

In 2016, our health insurance premiums were $723/month each for policies with a $3,500 per person deductible. In the new year, we will pay $225 more a month (nearly a 21 percent increase) with $3,700 deductibles.

This cannot continue. The cost of health insurance premiums threatens our financial stability. Paying $15,720 a year in premiums is crazy and unaffordable. We are careful with our money. Thankfully, years ago we paid off the mortgage on our modest home. We don’t take big vacations. We seldom dine out. We don’t own new vehicles. We limit our spending. But we have to eat and pay other basic cost of living bills.

Something has to give. I wish I had the answer. Of one thing I am certain. I am sick and tired of health insurance costs that have skyrocketed. It’s to the point where we can’t afford to get sick or to seek medical treatment. We can’t save money for retirement. The cost of health insurance and healthcare is my greatest financial worry.

I know many others are in the same predicament. The Minnesota legislature intends to call a special session addressing the crisis, specifically for those buying individual plans. Up until a year ago, I had an individual plan, too. What am I missing here? I was advised that we cannot apply for coverage through the state run marketplace, MNsure, (thus qualifying for a subsidy) because we have insurance available through an (my husband’s) employer.

TELL ME: How about you? Are you in the same situation as us? Do you have a solution to this crisis?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When health insurance costs become your biggest financial fear December 2, 2015

Insurance options and calculator - CopyI EXPECTED THE INCREASE. Yet, when I received notice of a $190 monthly hike in my health insurance premium, I reacted with shock. And anger. My new premium for an individual policy with a $6,550 deductible will be $602. Are you BLEEPING kidding me? That’s a 46 percent increase from my current $412/month premium. Plus, the deductible jumped $1,350 (from $5,200). For a “bronze” policy that basically offers only catastrophic coverage.

I decided to let the news simmer. Maybe time would ease the sticker shock, the worry about extracting more money from an already tight budget. Perhaps I would accept this as simply the way things are under the Affordable Care Act. That hasn’t happened. I’m still mad. There’s nothing affordable about my health insurance premium.

But anger doesn’t solve problems. I needed to make a decision and stop thinking that I could just as well drive down the highway and toss $7,224 out the window toward the offices of a company that advises me in its ad campaigns to Live Fearless with a Trusted Name. Really? The cost of health insurance is now my biggest financial fear.

The health insurance issue wasn’t going away. So I scheduled an appointment with our accountant (who also sells insurance for the aforementioned company) to discuss options. She is as upset as my husband and me about the escalating cost of health insurance.

In three columns on lined paper, she inked in the existing options—stick with my individual plan or choose one of two plans offered through my husband’s employer. We inquired about other plans, too, and I later followed up by visiting the MNsure website to compare plans. Since my husband’s employer offers health insurance, we can’t get a subsidy anyway and it would be minimal if we could.

We settled on a $3,500/person deductible company plan with a $723/person monthly premium. (With the Live Fearless company.) It made the most sense given the premium and deductible differences and the impact on our taxes (which is why we saw the accountant).

My husband’s employer pays half of his premium. That $361/month will help.

I will now pay $723/month rather than $412/month. My health insurance in 2016 will cost me $8,676 compared to $4,944 currently.

Add in another $204/month for our college son’s health insurance premium and our family will fork out $1,288/month for health insurance premiums in 2016. (Keep in mind that the employer will add $4,332 to the pot, pushing the total annual premium cost to $19,788) Affordable? No. But I suppose one could argue that, if we need to use our health insurance beyond our $3,500 deductibles (for my husband and me) and rack up substantial medical bills, we will consider the $15,456 we paid in 2016 premiums well spent.

Health insurance, for us and I suspect many, has become basically a catastrophic plan that keeps us from going to the doctor.

Thankfully, our home mortgage was paid off years ago. We have income. Both of us grew up in poor families, therefore are thrifty. Yet, at this stage in our lives nearing retirement, we shouldn’t have to worry about out-of-control, astronomical health insurance premiums.

Something has to give here. With so much of our income now going toward health insurance, we are not spending elsewhere. Or saving for retirement. Like our tightening family budget, the economy will feel the impact.

GO AHEAD, VENT. Tell me your health insurance woes. Solutions are welcome. I know my family is far from alone in facing these excessive health insurance costs.

Click here to read a related story published on MPR.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My health insurance premium goes through the roof & I’m mad as… November 4, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I KNEW IT WAS COMING.

But still, I was hopeful it wasn’t.

And I am raging mad. I’d write mad as h*** except I prefer not to swear.

On Monday I received a packet of information from my health insurance carrier, PreferredOne. It contained not a single word of good news.

The letter I received from my health insurance carrier.

The letter I received from my health insurance carrier.

Instead, I was notified that, if I stay with my current SignatureChoice Plus plan with a $2,000 deductible, copay and 100 percent coinsurance, my monthly premium will skyrocket a whopping 76 percent.

That’s right. Seventy-six percent.

My new monthly premium, effective January 1, will be $777 compared to my current $441.

Are you kidding? I cannot even begin to express how angry I am at this ridiculous rate increase. If this is affordable health insurance, then I wonder what the definition is of unaffordable health insurance.

Likewise, my husband is seeing a similar increase in the cost of his health insurance. His employer pays half his premium, which will be $778/month effective January 1.

We insure our college-aged son, too, through a plan offered at his East Coast university. At $185/month, that seems dirt cheap.

I have no idea what we are going to do. None. But to pay $1,351/month in health insurance premiums is not affordable on our income.

Some of my choices if I stay with PreferredOne.

Some of my choices if I stay with PreferredOne.

I will spend the next few weeks exploring options. After my nightmarish experience with MNSure last year, I am hesitant to try that route. But I’ll grit my teeth, bite my tongue (maybe), attempt to check my disdain and wade through the process which is sure to anger and frustrate me. I anticipate a system overload as nearly 60 percent of those purchasing insurance through MNSure last year were with PreferredOne. Now that Golden Valley based company has dropped out of MNSure and all those folks, plus individuals like me, will be shopping for new plans.

Early on I was optimistic that healthcare reform might work, that costs might be contained, that the average person could afford health insurance. No more.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you, like my husband and me, facing unaffordable health insurance premiums? What are you going to do?

What’s your take on this mess? At whom should my anger be directed? Politicians? Health insurance companies? Who?

We need some accountability here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Turning 55 and fed up with healthcare costs September 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:04 AM
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In 19 days I turn 55.

Recently I received my first birthday greeting, from my health insurance carrier, a well-known Minnesota-based company.

The message wasn’t all that nice.  In fact, I’d say it wasn’t at all thoughtful, not one bit, for a soon-to-be birthday celebrant. My three-month premium is increasing $151, from $878 to $1,029.

The whole correspondence made me so darn mad that I called my husband at work to see if I could still get on the company insurance plan. His employer was switching to a new insurance carrier to try and curb costs. He said he would check and get back to me.

So while he was asking, I was calling my insurer. I got through the first automated voice when my cell phone rang. (Did I mention that I hate those automated systems?) It was my husband calling back, and probably a good thing since at that moment I glanced at my insurance bill and saw the reason for the $151 premium increase:

REASON FOR RATE CHANGE—SUBSCRIBER OR SPOUSE AGE CHANGES

There it was in bold-faced, capitalized letters.

The bill could have included these bold-faced, uppercased letters to project some Minnesota Nice: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AUDREY!

My husband shared a dismal message. Coverage through his employer would be $30 higher than my new monthly premium of $342.83. How do they come up with that 83 cents tacked on the end?

My husband’s news sent my anger level soaring off the charts. “What the blankety-blank (not my exact words, but I want to keep this post family-friendly) is going on?” I screeched.

“Welcome to Obama Care,” he said.

I have no idea if rising insurance premiums are related to changes in healthcare policies, but my spouse seems to think so. I didn’t follow healthcare reform because half most of the time I couldn’t understand it anyway. That’s not an excuse, simply the truth.

But I do know this: Way too much—well over $800 a month— of my family’s income is now going toward health insurance premiums for my husband and me, who turns 55 shortly after me. I have a $3,000 deductible and my spouse has a $2,400 deductible.

His employer has been paying about $90 of his monthly premium. Since I’m self-employed, well, every premium cent comes from my pocket.

We rarely visit the doctor because that costs us even more money.

Honestly, I am fed up with the rising cost of health insurance and healthcare and I don’t know what the heck to do about it.

I’ve even thought about dropping my insurance coverage. But I am smart enough to realize that at my age, that would not be a wise decision.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you fed up with the rising cost of health insurance premiums and overall healthcare costs? What are you doing to control/cut costs? Share your thoughts by submitting a comment. Feel free to speak your mind. Just use family-friendly language and keep your comments libel-free.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sick of high healthcare costs November 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:56 PM
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MY HEALTH INSURANCE premium arrived in the mail yesterday. Happy holidays!

Not.

It’s due shortly before Christmas.

Bah! Humbug!

In mid-June, the premium increased from $801 to $813 for three months of coverage. Do the math. That’s $271 per month or $3,252 a year.

I am not happy.

Here’s the deal. I foolishly thought healthcare reform would mean lower premiums and lower costs for medical visits, in other words, more affordable healthcare for families like mine. We are not wealthy. We live in a modest home in a modest neighborhood. We have no debt. We spend carefully and wisely.

But when it comes to health insurance, I believe the word “affordable” cannot fit, cannot even be squeezed, into the same sentence.

I pay $271 a month for coverage with a $3,000 deductible. In other words, my coverage is basically major medical.

I’ve evaluated getting onto my husband’s plan at work. That would cost me even more than the individual policy I have as a self-employed writer. His employer pays only a small portion of his health insurance premium and my spouse, too, has a high deductible.

I haven’t crunched the numbers lately, but my family (which also includes one still-at-home 16-year-old) is forking out a lot of money every month for health insurance.

Yet, we rarely go to the doctor because of the high deductibles and the high cost of healthcare. Cost is a great deterrent for skipping routine exams. I’m just being honest here.

Another problem I face is past medical history. I had total hip replacement surgery in 2008. I will need a new, and very costly, hip in 15 – 20 years. Insurance companies have these policies about pre-existing conditions.  So, even if I was to look for different insurance, the hip would likely be excluded from coverage.

I have no answers to any of this. I just know that I am sick and tired of the high cost of health insurance and of healthcare.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on the topic and do you have any answers? What are you spending every month on health insurance premiums?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling