Health care in America has changed significantly over just the past few generations. One Iowan, Kathy Geronzin, has lived through these changes, and has seen the the quality of her health care affordability erode.
“I have been lucky during the course of my life that I’ve always had health insurance as an adult, but I’m 71 years old,” said Geronzin, a retired teacher who lives in Maquoketa. “When my youngest son was born in 1981, family health insurance was under $300 a month, and it was paid for by my employer.”
Nearly 40 years later, a lot has changed. For starters, the annual cost of family health insurance is much more than $3,600 now.
“But when the family policy went over $300 a month, that’s when schools in Iowa started saying, ‘Well, we have this much money that the teacher’s union can get in bargaining for salary and health insurance,’ so sometimes our wages were held static because health insurance premiums went up,” Geronzin said.
This wasn’t isolated to collective bargaining for teachers — it happened across the country in all sorts of employment sectors. Increasingly, costs kept rising regardless of what the employer covered.
“You can’t allow these people to offer coverage that can just be cancelled,” she said. “At some point, that can be taken away from them, and then they don’t have anything. If you get sick with some type of illness where you’re not going to be able to return to work, the first thing that happens is you have to pay your own premium to your employer as soon as you can’t work. And at some point, your employment is going to end, and then your insurance ends.
Not A Foolproof Remedy
Over the years, Geronzin has seen several untimely events play out with their coverage.
“My second husband was in a car accident in the parking lot of the company he worked for after he had signed out from work,” she explained. “It was a very serious accident and his hospital bill was like $16,000.”
After being away from work for about a week after the accident, Geronzin’s husband was told he would have to pay the insurance premiums for every month he couldn’t work, otherwise the insurance would “lapse,” leaving him effectively uninsured.
“They were just trying to pull all sorts of stuff so they didn’t have to pay the charges for his accident, and it was pretty obvious,” she said. “One time they told me that I had signed a waiver so that they wouldn’t have to pay, which was a complete lie. I said, ‘If I ever signed that, by accident or something, would you send me a copy?’ And they never did, because it didn’t exist.”
Geronzin spent countless hours negotiating with her husband’s employer, health care providers and the insurance company to get him the treatment he needed after an injury on company grounds.
“People shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the bills for their treatment is gonna be paid for when they get sick,” she said. “They’re already down and out, and then they have to deal with these insurance companies fighting for charges to get paid?”
The Cycle Begins Anew
Part of her frustration, Geronzin explained, was that insurance was closely tied to being employed.
“All these things, especially for younger people, go to employability, which is why it shouldn’t be tied to employment. If you’re young and you have bad teeth, it’s hard to find employment because people don’t want to hire you,” she said. “It’s a health and safety thing if people need hearing care or aids. If they can’t hear conversations or noises around them, it’s a safety thing. But hearing aids are so expensive, I’m sure there are many people who go without because they simply can’t afford them.”
Aside from the lack of coverage for services that would inherently make people more employable, Geronzin said over the course of her life she has watched employers push the insurance burden onto their employees.
“One thing that’s happening with private insurance through employers, is employers constantly asking workers to pay higher and higher deductibles,” she said. “My brother and his wife, the last years he worked, their deductible was $4,000 per person, per incident. If they both needed significant medical care, that’s $8,000 out of pocket.”
Addressing Real Issues
“If you’re born, and you drink the water and breathe the air, at some point you’re going to have a medical condition that needs care,” Geronzin said. “One thing the ACA did was say that insurance companies couldn’t deny you because of pre-existing conditions.”
Having been through a few different health care setups and systems, Geronzin is pretty well-versed in the U.S. health care market. As a retiree listening to presidential candidates pitch their health care plans, she’s thankful for the Affordable Care Act and other advancements, but wants further progress.
“When it comes to all these presidential candidates that are saying let’s have an option for Medicare for anyone who wants it, that’s a great idea,” she said. “But we have to get rid of private insurance.”
By Josh Cook