After retiring from a small division of an automotive company in the Midwest and moving to Colorado, I was faced with the inability to secure insurance because of a pre-existing condition. First, a little background about myself. To be honest, growing up (and growing old) I never gave health insurance much thought. It was something that I took for granted because it was always there. Sure, once a year my wife and I would noodle on the company provided choices, weigh the pros and cons of each, and maybe grumble a bit about the rising cost of “our share” of the burden. However, in the end we usually just said “we’ll buy the most expensive policy because surely it must be the best.”
After retiring and as my COBRA started to run out, I began the search for health insurance for myself (my wife is on Medicare). Since I was clueless on the subject (lulled into complacency by my years in “Corporate America”) I engaged the services of a local insurance broker to guide me through the process. Like most folks today, I was shocked at the cost of even the most basic coverage; after all, I considered myself reasonably healthy and at 62, still young enough to enjoy life. After settling on the least onerous option, we started working through the ponderous paperwork of enrollment.
Several days after submitting the forms, I received a call that shook me to the core. “Sorry, you have a pre-existing condition and we WILL NOT INSURE YOU. I can honestly say I was stunned. Never would I have thought that I would be rejected because of a few notations buried in my health record. I assumed that this must be an aberration, some strange unique response from the one insurance carrier that I contacted, however my broker gave me the bad news. “It is going to be the same with any company that you talk to.” I thought, “This can’t be right, I’m an upstanding citizen, seemingly healthy, always insured” and yet I found myself cast aside.
What came next was a humbling journey into a world of foreign terms and acronyms. My business and engineering background did little to prepare me for the staggering confusion of the health insurance world. Fortunately for me the insurance broker I was working with pointed me in the direction of Cover Colorado, the state High Risk insurance carrier, so at least I knew where to start the process. With the help of the internet (and driven by the cold fear of being uninsured) I dug in and soon understood that Cover Colorado was my only option. I scrambled to fill out the appropriate enrollment forms and provide proof of past insurance. I remember how happy I was when I finally got the written confirmation that I was enrolled in Cover Colorado (a little less happy when I saw the cost, but that’s another story).
After the completing the painful path to becoming insured again, it dawned on me that there must be a significant number of folks in the same boat , clueless and ill equipped to deal with the transition from the coddled world of corporate group health insurance to the real world of finding affordable individual health insurance. At that point, I realized that I needed to find some way to get involved and began the process by finding and then joining two organizations, Boomers Leading Change in Health and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
While I never considered myself a student of state or federal politics, it became clear that the pathway to better understanding of healthcare issues leads straight into the political world. For folks like me the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (sometimes called ObamaCare) is the light at the end of the tunnel. This sweeping piece of legislation created by President Obama’s administration has already addressed several serious flaws in the current healthcare system and will address many more when fully implemented in 2014. Among the many facets of this piece of legislation are restrictions that would prevent insurance companies from denying insurance to folks with pre-existing conditions, as well as a challenge to states to offer Health Care Benefit Exchanges (a task that Colorado has embraced as can be seen at Colorado Health Benefit Exchange). These exchanges will become a centralized source for the review and purchase of a wide variety of regulated health insurance plans from many of the country’s leading health insurance providers.
The bad news in all this is that the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is not a “done deal” and is under attack on several fronts. My personal experience with the health care system has taught me that everyone has a stake in this fight. When it comes to healthcare we all need to get smart and get involved!
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Keith is a 62-year-old Viet Nam veteran who recently retired as a manager in a small division in one of the largest automotive companies in the United States. After retirement he and his wife sold their home in Indiana and moved to Parker, Colorado to be closer to their daughter. They enjoy landscape gardening and traveling in their RV.