Archived Story

Health care costs are spiraling out of sight

Published 9:23am Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Column: My Point of View, by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

This past week I’ve been documenting milestones from our daughter’s first year — four teeth, walking and jabbering like an Ewok. While I was at it, I also tallied the expenses of having this wonderful new baby in our family. Since I stayed at home this year, we didn’t have any child care costs, and I’ve been trying to keep our expenses to a minimum. Here is how the numbers came out:

 

Diapers: $260

We use mainly cloth diapers, and most of them are hand-me-downs. I paid $140 for new cloth supplies, a few boxes of disposables and diaper cream. We spent about $120 on laundering 10 loads of diapers per month.

 

Food: $300

Estimated $1 per day from 6 to 7 months, and $2 per day from 8 to 12 months. No formula purchased.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson
Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

 

Clothing and shoes: $225

We have had amazing (free) hand-me-downs from friends and neighbors, and I found great deals at garage sales and our secondhand shops in Albert Lea. Includes estimated cost of laundering one to two loads per week.

 

Accessories and miscellaneous: $400

$170 for double stroller, $20 on fabric to sew new covers, and various sundries I can’t remember now, so fudge factor included here. My daughter mostly uses her brother’s baby items.

 

Total for baby expenses so far: $1,185

I am a budget hawk! A money-saving maven!

Except for one thing…

 

Health insurance and medical payments: $4,926.08

Insurance for our daughter cost $1,739. All other expenses were for her hospital stay at birth and treatment of moderate jaundice.

In short, health costs blew up our budget. Still, we have been extremely fortunate because our baby has had no health problems other than being a tad orange shortly after birth. She had only one mild cold her entire first year. As one doting grandmother type in our church put it, “She’s as healthy as a horse!”

This past week we also figured our taxes. When we reached the bottom line, I couldn’t help but think the Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party’s resentment is radically misplaced, because what our near-median income family spent on healthcare this past year (more than 20 percent of our net income) far overshadows what we paid in federal, state and local taxes. Where is the We Pay Too Much For Health Care Party?

It used to be that families like ours had good health insurance benefits through employment, but those numbers are falling. We pay for our own health insurance because it’s less expensive than my husband’s employer-sponsored plan, for similar coverage.

Last year was a bit of an unusual year for us (hopefully) because we had hospital costs associated with birth. Our insurance plan went up $750 starting in March of this year, making a total annual price tag of $9,000. For that whopping fee, we get a few preventive care benefits, and our individual deductibles are $3,000.

Since it feels like our fannies are facing the wind either way, we’re considering switching to a higher deductible to reduce our premiums. I’m looking forward to the health insurance exchange in Minnesota and hoping it will be easier to find a more affordable health insurance plan. But, realistically, there’s no way that will be enough to bring health care costs down to a reasonable level.

This is where Republicans are missing the boat, and Democrats, I hate to say, are mostly idling on the dock with them. We have a health system so inefficient that we pay double what our European counterparts pay, with no better results. Obamacare will help people who were priced out of the system before find more affordable insurance, but that doesn’t control the costs of health care in the first place.

I was grateful to see Steven Brill’s cover story “Bitter Pill” in Time magazine, in which he emphasizes in case after case how Americans are overspending an estimated $750 billion a year on health care. Here is the key to the entire piece: “When the taxpayers pick up the tab, most of the dynamics of the marketplace shift dramatically.”

The costs, as the article points out, are driving the growth of the federal deficit, and they’re making lots of other things more expensive, too. There doesn’t seem to be a rationale for the high costs, other than hospitals and pharmaceutical companies charge what they want to, and then government drives the best bargain, insurers the next best, and people without insurance or gaps in their insurance pay the Cadillac price.

This is a large part of why 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in the United States are due to medical bills, even though 78 percent of those people had some kind of health insurance. The unwieldy costs are now on their way to bankrupting our whole country.

A year ago, my daughter was three days overdue. Our country is long past overdue for a single payer health system. Put the taxpayers in charge.

 

Albert Lea resident Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.