I just read this article from NPR and Kaiser Health News about Lyn Robinson, a 52 year old self-employed woman who has chosen to be uninsured for at least the last decade. Lyn is very healthy. She leads an active life and takes good care of herself. She pays out of pocket for alternative health care like acupuncture and chiropractic care – things that often aren’t covered by health insurance policies anyway.
Years ago, she broke her wrist and ended up paying $14,000 out of pocket to get herself put back together. It was expensive, but she figures she’s still come out ahead because she hasn’t been paying thousands of dollars each year in health insurance premiums.
As I read through the article, all I could think was “what if…?” I can empathize with Lyn. I go to great lengths to keep myself and my family healthy. I understand Lyn’s frustration with knowing that she’s healthier than the average 52 year old, and would thus be subsidizing their care if she buys into a health insurance policy. But if she breaks her back on a ski slope, they will be subsidizing her care too. The $14,000 bill for her wrist surgeries was no doubt a tough pill to swallow – but what if it had been a $140,000 bill? or a $1,400,000 bill?
At the end of the article, it was mentioned that the process of doing the NPR story made Lyn second-guess her decision to go uninsured, and she’s now shopping around for a high deductible policy… just in case. She had mentioned earlier in the article that she estimates it would cost $500/month for health insurance. She doesn’t live in Colorado, but premiums here are in the same basic ballpark as premiums in other states that use medical underwriting on individual health insurance policies. I checked rates for a healthy, non-smoking, 52 year-old female, and came up with a range of options priced between $200/month and $260/month for a good quality, $5000 deductible, HSA qualified plan (people like Lyn, who rarely need their health insurance and are in good health, are good candidates for high deductible plans). So hopefully Lyn will get a pleasant surprise when she gets her quotes, and the premiums won’t be as high as she was expecting.
I notice that when I read articles about people who are choosing to go uninsured, they tend to have an example of a medical problem that they have been able to cover by paying the doctor or hospital directly – in Lyn’s case it was the broken wrist. But what I’ve noticed is that the bills mentioned are usually in the $5000 – $20,000 range. I can’t remember ever reading an article about someone who chose to go uninsured, ended up with a six-figure medical bill, and then paid it off on their own. I have to imagine most of those cases end in bankruptcy.