Kelli Rose is 46 and healthy, with never a day in the hospital. But still, the only health insurance available to her has a $15,000 deductible and would cost up to $500 a month.
Asked if she has $15,000 in the bank in case of a medical emergency, Rose just laughs.
Health insurance has become so expensive that this Monument woman, like many other Coloradans, has decided it is just not worth the cost. So she lives without insurance.
“You’re paying money in the hope you don’t have to use it. So you’re throwing money away,” said Rose, a massage therapist who recently switched to sales and marketing. Her new employer doesn’t provide health insurance.
Self-employed painter Robert Dooher of Colorado Springs also decided health insurance was a bad bargain. He paid $360 a month for his family of two until his son finished high school. Now, at 57 and with the construction business ailing for several years, he’s decided to go without. He cites the high cost, and the huge gap before it would cover anything.
Rose said she’s heard too many stories of people who had insurance that didn’t cover their medical expenses when they became ill. “Insurance is supposed to be there for you at the moment you need it most, but it seems to nail you when you are at you are at your lowest point,” she said.
Health insurance for a family of four in Colorado now averages more than $13,300 a year – nearly as much as an annual income of $15,891 that a person would earn working full time at minimum wage.
Rose and Dooher are among the estimated 16 percent of Coloradans who have no health insurance, according to a survey by The Colorado Trust, a Denver-based foundation. Add in people with inadequate insurance, like deductibles they wouldn’t be able to pay, and the number reaches one-third of the state, or 1.5 million people.
The survey also found Coloradans unrealistic about the cost of insurance. Thirty-five percent of people who said they could pay something for insurance said the amount would be $50 or less a month. Ten percent said $25 or less.
But insurance actually averages $182 a month per person in Colorado, and can easily reach $700 to $1,000 a month and more for individuals over age 55.
Costs like these have put health care near the top of the nation’s concerns going into the November election. The Supreme Court is reviewing the Democrats’ solution – which gives subsidies to people who can’t afford insurance, but insists they buy it. Republican alternatives vary, from tax credits to boosting competition. Some Republicans say the nation just can’t afford to insure everyone.
Rose and Dooher attended a recent 9Health Fair for discount screenings. Both said they exercise, and don’t smoke, trying to stay healthy. Dooher has not been to a doctor for three years, even though the 9Health Fair advises people not to substitute its screenings for a checkup with their own physicians.
Dooher says he takes extra precautions, like climbing ladders more slowly. He’s already counting the days until he qualifies for Medicare, even though that’s seven years from now.
“Thank God I’m getting older and about to retire,” he says.
Dr. Ned Calonge, president and CEO of The Colorado Trust, said such a strategy may be a recipe for bankruptcy. “There are conditions or health care needs that are often outside of your control,” Calonge noted. “That’s just a reality.”
A simple trip to the hospital can burn up thousands of dollars very quickly. For instance, a Caesarean section birth costs $15,000, Calonge said. A ski accident can cost more than $25,000, said Bill Lindsay, president of Lockton Employee Benefits Group. Lindsay, who has health insurance, noted his own hip-replacement was $80,000.
“It’s a gamble not to have insurance,” Calonge said. “I appreciate that people have good behaviors. But even with good behaviors, there are conditions that you cannot predict.”
About one-third of people seeking individual insurance cannot buy it at any price, Lindsay added. They “can’t get it because they are not healthy,” he said. The Democratic health law would ban that practice in 2014, unless the law is overturned by the Supreme Court or through election.
Moreover, research shows that people who don’t have insurance are less likely to receive preventative care when they need it. They tend to be diagnosed when diseases are more advanced, and receive less therapeutic care when they are ill. They are more likely to die when hospitalized than people who have insurance, according to studies in Medical Care Research and Review.
But Dooher doesn’t want to think too much about that. His health care plan is to take the best care he can of himself: “I try not to worry about it. Worrying makes you sick.”