Years ago, I attended a public hearing on the S&L bailout of the 1980s. Many people were very concerned because we were told that the bailout might cost the taxpayers as much as $160 billion, a number considered unfathomable then. I remember one attendee screaming out, “Why should the taxpayers have to pay for this? I think the government should pay for it!” Many of you now chuckling know that the taxpayers and the government are essentially one and the same. There is no “government” separate from we taxpayers.
Likewise, there is no health insurance payer separate from we insured. If you incur a health insurance expense, that cost is paid for by your monthly premium. If the cost exceeds what you pay in premium, then the bill is paid using the money from your neighbor’s premium payment. For every medical bill covered by your insurance, either you paid for it or your neighbor did. It’s that simple.
However, when we are at the point of receiving or consuming medical care, we lose sight of what our neighbor is paying. We have a tendency to think in terms of whether or not something is “covered.” If it is not covered then you pay for it outside of your health insurance policy. If something is covered, it is paid for by your premiums or your neighbors’.
With every form of insurance, there are winners and there are losers. Believe it or not, with life insurance, the winners are those who died, because that is when the money is paid out. With health insurance, the “winners” are those who consume more health expense than they pay in premium, and the “losers” are those who pay in more than they consume. Many people have chronic ailments needing constant medical care such as dialysis or tamoxifen. Others have acute conditions, such as a heart attack, which will far exceed premiums paid.
In order for us to be a caring society, we need many people willing to consume less health care than they pay for. The benefit of consuming less is enjoying wonderful health. Each of us also needs to remember that with every health care decision we make, we are spending either our own money or our neighbors’. When I’ve had health care providers tell me, in a relieved tone, that a treatment “won’t cost me anything,” I always reply, “It will cost me plenty. I will pay for it in my premiums next year.” I’ve always been proud of spending less on health care than the sum of the premiums I pay because I want to provide for others with chronic ailments or crises. One year, I ended up receiving a procedure that cost more than $20,000 and ended up being unnecessary. I felt grateful to my neighbors whose premiums covered what my premiums did not.
In recent years, it has cost about $15,000 annually for the premiums and deductibles for my family’s health insurance. I am incredibly blessed to have a healthy family. At the same time, I am sorry to say that I don’t feel as proud as I once did for contributing more than $10,000 annually to the health insurance pot. That’s quite a bit of money.
As Americans, we are all in this together. We each need to take responsibility for being healthy by spending as little on health care as possible. We need to spend our neighbors’ money as prudently as we spend our own.