The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been nothing short of a miracle for me. I’m self-employed. Before the ACA, insurance cost me more than $500 a month for mediocre coverage. For the past year, I’ve been paying $300 a month for fantastic insurance that covered all my needs.
I was a little shocked when I got my renewal notice in the mail. Instead of $300, my new monthly premium will cost $505 in 2016. And my benefits are decreasing to boot.
Turns out, I’m not alone. North Carolina health consumers are seeing their 2016 premiums rise by as much as 50%. Insurers claim costs are rising beyond what they anticipated, and they say they are forced to pass the increase on to customers.
But in other states, premiums are staying flat or even decreasing. What’s going on here?
Most likely it comes back, once again, to our state’s refusal to expand Medicaid. The federal government offered states subsidies to give Medicaid to a larger group of people. Currently in North Carolina, workers must be extremely poor to qualify for Medicaid. The expanded plan would allow families making low-to-moderate incomes to have access to high-quality, low-cost healthcare.
North Carolina lawmakers claimed expansion would put the state on the hook for long-term healthcare costs if the federal government overturns the ACA. Some also implied that workers who couldn’t afford insurance needed to work harder or find jobs with more benefits.
Without expansion, hundreds of thousands of women were left without coverage. Rural hospitals closed. People who would have qualified for incentives to purchase ACA insurance fell into the Medicaid gap and were left without options.
These people cannot pay their medical bills. Hospitals and doctors offices are forced to increase costs for patients who pay — which means insurers pay more. They, of course, pass the costs on to consumers.
Now people like me are left with an enormous increase. My budget is tight. I don’t really have room for another $200 on top of what I already pay. I’m left with a tough decision: Decrease my benefits so that I have an impossibly high deductible, or pay the difference. Either way is a gamble.
I have another decision to make as well: How will I fight this? The best way is to tell those who can make a difference that this is not acceptable. We vote for lawmakers so that they will represent the interests of every single voter. We must continue to push for expansion of Medicaid in our state and we must send a message that we cannot leave any North Carolinians behind when it comes to providing adequate, affordable health care.