I usually love sorting through the pile of mail that accumulates while I’ve been away from home.
This time was different.
After returning from a Thanksgiving trip, complete with road closures due to icy conditions, I hurriedly flipped through the collected mail. It was waiting for me near the bottom of the pile – the inconspicuous insurance company letter, carefully designed to hide the news it contained.
Cancelled. Thank you for your business. We can no longer provide the insurance policy you purchased.
I had received similar letters twice before, but this time was different. This time I was five months pregnant with my fourth baby. A slight panic set in as I considered the options. How can these insurance companies have cancelled our polices three times?
In this current economic and political climate, my family has been richly blessed. My husband is gainfully employed with a small company he loves and I have the great blessing of working part-time as a self-employed contractor. The combination, however, left us in a bit of a health insurance wasteland. I had shopped health insurance plans twice before, using an insurance broker to help compare policies and make coverage decisions. But with various legal changes and our income at the time, the most affordable monthly premium (for a very high deductible plan) exceeded my monthly income. And that did not take into account the estimated out-of-pocket costs for a routine, hospital birth.After a few choice words and more than a few prayers, I set about researching options. Perhaps there were other ways to access health care for our family than what traditional insurance offered (or in this case, didn’t offer).
That search led us in a couple of directions I had never anticipated. The first was to transfer prenatal and maternity care to a midwife and opt for a home birth. In this realm, the insurance cancellation was the greatest blessing I never imagined. For while I would not have likely explored midwifery while traditionally insured, it was exactly what I needed at the time and afforded me the most empowered and fulfilling labor and delivery experience of my four births. The second decision was to pursue a medical cost sharing program. Simply put, these programs formalize medical bill sharing among a group of people. This new concept took some time to sink in. Instead of paying a monthly premium to an insurance company (which at this point was almost guaranteed to cancel my plan in 10-ish months, anyway), I would write a check each month to a complete stranger who had a medical need. When we had significant medical needs (greater than routine check-ups or simple sick visits for which we would pay cash out of pocket), we would submit those costs to be “shared” by others in the group.
I was intrigued, but also very skeptical.
My husband and I decided to give it a shot. We would join a medical bill sharing program and evaluate at the one year mark. Thankfully, we were already in the habit of setting money aside each month in a health savings account (HSA). This was a critical part of the plan. As I began exploring this new path, we discovered that many of our health providers had also experienced the crunch of health insurance changes and were developing plans on their own to benefit their customers. Our dentist offered a one year dental plan – two routine cleanings and exams with a discount on any additional services. The hospital offered a significant discount for a costly imaging scan if we would pay at the time of service, saving them the time and expense of billing traditional insurance (this is where our HSA savings really came into play). We took advantage of both; as uninsured, self-pay patients.
We have now been uninsured for 15 months. Each month, the practice of writing a check to a family in Illinois or Florida with a brief note of encouragement reminds me to be thankful for the health we currently enjoy and to pray for those who are currently experiencing health challenges. When we submitted a medical need to be shared by our cost sharing group, we received checks from families around the country to help cover the costs and were delighted by the expressions of prayer and support offered in addition.
While our politicians debate health care policy, so many of my fellow Americans wrestle with the ever-changing healthcare landscape. I know we are not alone. And many do so with the added hardship of chronic health conditions. Sometimes health insurance just doesn’t work. If you find yourself frustrated with health insurance options (or lack of options!), or a series of cancellations, perhaps it’s time to research other solutions. We did, and are so much happier for it.