Why I'm happy my health insurance costs $12,268/yr

On December 31, 2006, my health insurance cost $4715/year. On January 1, it rose to $12,268, when CIGNA hiked the premiums up to 254% for the writers, actors, and artists nationwide who buy insurance through the Entertainment Industry Group.

I'm thrilled. Really. Ecstatic. Well, at first I was a little bit upset, since I don't actually have the money. But I refuse to add another sob story to the daily stream.

No, I am looking on the bright side, and I can think of at least ten reasons I should be happy to pay $1022/month for health insuranceóand why Iím excited that insurance companies like CIGNA will remain in charge of my health care under the reform plans proposed in California and other states.

That's $1.40 an hour. $11.20 for every eight-hour night of sleep. $4.20 to go to dinner with friends. $5.60 to watch the Oscars. Take a shower, pay CIGNA 35 cents. But here's why I'm happy:

1. CIGNA could have raised the rate to $50,000/year--or $500,000/year or $5 million/hour or $50 million/minute, since in California, as in most states, there is no federal or state law that would have prevented it.

2. I don't live in New Jersey or San Francisco--where the plan I'm on is now $13,358 and $14,943.

3. The plan for families in L.A. rose to $29,831--and in San Francisco to $44,231, which could easily be 100% of my income. While I've been thinking about having kids, I can see now what a huge mistake that could be.

4. I like CIGNA. At least they pay my claims rather than deny them, unlike my prior insurer Blue Shield. As far as I know, they're not denying coverage to people with acne or roofing jobs (that'd be HealthNet, Blue Shield, PacifiCare), and unlike Blue Cross and Kaiser Foundation, they're not under investigation for canceling the policies of sick people.

CIGNA drives people away perfectly legally, with astronomical premiums--which is just good old-fashioned market-driven economics.

5. The CEO of CIGNA deserves a raise--for all the reasons above. He made $28.82 million ($54.83/minute, and 6117 premiums at my rate) in compensation in 2005--just 1.8% of the total $1.63 billion profit. Not to mention, he freely donates some of that compensation to the Republican National Committee--which agrees he needs a raise--and he helped create the Council For Affordable Quality Health Care.

6. Freelance writing is a tough way to make a living--and I'm happy to find a new career anyway, which I'll have to do since a) this country has almost accidentally acquired a byzantine and senseless employer-based system and b) I can't get insured as an individual, since I've had the bad judgment to acquire health problems.

Alternatively, I could be a freelance writer in Canada. Or maybe Massachusetts, which just passed laws that require these companies to enroll everyone--though the companies just submitted bids that are far higher than what the state projected.

Or I could live with Mom and Dad and wait around to see if the Governorís plans for a Massachusetts-type market-based system work out.

7. I like Canada a lot. I like cold weather, and I love to cross-country ski. And most of the people in America who are sick or self-employed are about to move to Massachusetts anyway, so that's going to get fairly crowded.

8. I'm terrible at making decisions--the big ones, especially. So I have to tell you I'm relieved that we finally have an entity in this free-market democracy--the health-insurance industry--that is deciding not only which doctors we can see and what treatments we can have and who can get health care but also where we can live, what careers we can pursue, and how many kids we can reasonably contemplate having.

9. National insurance, or any other non-market-driven alternative, would be un-American. Sure, the other developed countries (you know, all of them) spend half or less on health care, don't have 47 million uninsured citizens, and enjoy higher life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates.

However, if you truly believe that the primary goal of our health-care system should be to maximize private profits, then we should keep Americans' health in the hands of such companies as this one, which has $44.86 billion in assets, and which delivers a 37% return to shareholders. Which pays $1,139,084 in compensation (93 premiums) to its eleven Directors, most of whom have never worked in any health-related field. And which does not mention health care provision in its eight stated criteria to assess CEO performance--nor in its self-description as "a high performance company that focuses on our control environment, risk management and total shareholder return."

10. I'm feeling sick already. Headaches. Ulcers. Heart palpitations. Insomnia. Panic attacks. I might just get my money's worth. Has anyone compiled statistics on how many people are becoming sick from the stress of worrying about how to get and pay for health insurance?

It can almost make you hope you slip in the shower--and put that 35 cents to good use.


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