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Speaking of health

The push is on: exercise, eat right, yearly preventive check ups. America: Get healthy. All great messages, but they’re lost if we don’t have access to physicians and other practitioners and all the tools necessary for health maintenance.Hard hit by this country’s broken health care system are its freelance artists, writers, designers, hair stylists, dog groomers and the one-man retail shops – the same people who drive culture, entertainment and thought and provide services many of us could not live without.For the average American, the entrepreneurial dream is at risk of becoming as endangered as the bald eagle. The No. 1 predator is health insurance.Last year, I started searching for an individual health plan to replace my COBRA coverage ($488-plus per month), as I transitioned from full-time corporate reporter to full-time independent editor and freelance writerFor two months, I intercepted dozens of pushy insurance brokers and agents, combed the fine print of at least six health plans and endured three 45-minute phone interviews and a one-hour in-person visit with an insurance agent, who, while upping his original quote to me, asked that we pray for those who don’t have health insurance.The underwriting process reduced me to a child-like state of total helplessness. I felt like a criminal because I am over 50 and take meds for attention deficit disorder. Never mind that I am fit, healthy, food conscious and exercise six days a week. Never mind that a psychiatrist’s well-thought-out diagnosis has made me a more productive person.I was finally accepted by Humana, with an exclusion rider for ADD. I am paying $172 a month for a $5,000/$7,000 total deductible plan – your basic catastrophic coverage. A health savings account, by the way, was over my budget.Apparently, I am lucky.Forty percent of all people who apply for individual insurance are declined in Colorado, said Barbara Brett, executive director of Cover Colorado, the state’s high-risk insurance plan. “Most people over the age of 40 are turned down,” she added. “If you are over age 60, your chance of getting individual health insurance is zero.”If you have one health issue at any age, forget about it, Barbara said. Those issues are at the whim of the insurance industry.She has witnessed all kinds of situations where people are turned down by insurance companies and forced to apply for Cover Colorado.Barbara cited examples of insurance throw-a-ways.

  • A former high-tech worker who had gone through marriage counseling (his only health issue)
  • A 20-year-old who had acne
  • A 23-year-old who took an antidepressant for six months when he was age 18
  • A lobbyist friend of hers – age 24 – was given a prescription inhaler for a sinus infection one time only, and the insurance company excluded his sinuses for a lifetime.
Barbara said Cover Colorado receives 500 application requests every month from people who cannot get individual insurance coverage; 150 people end up in the program. The rest, she said, cannot afford it.Cover Colorado rates are 150 percent higher than the average market rate. Last I talked with Barbara, 5,000 Coloradoans were under the program. I am eligible as well because of the ADD exclusion. I would pay $367.15 for a $5,000 deductible, Barbara said. No way, I said.One 60-year-old member of Cover Colorado is paying $1,003 per month for a $1,000 deductible plan. Welcome to retirement in America.The sort-of-good news for the Colorado self-employed is the business group-of-one health insurance plan. Barbara said 30,000 people in Colorado are covered under this type of plan, which offers lower rates than Cover Colorado but higher than individual insurance rates. She said the insurance companies are not fond of advertising this option because there is open enrollment at certain times of the year.An insurance industry with this much power and control over our lives cannot be good for America. This is a column, so I don’t have to get the insurance side of the story, but I already know it: They are just not making enough money, or so they say.And I am not blaming one industry. Hospitals often blame the uninsured, who get labeled as lazy – milking the system. However, according to a Commonwealth Fund study, the percentage of working Americans with moderate to middle incomes who lacked health insurance for at least part of the year rose to 41 percent in 2005.”The system is broken,” Barbara said.One executive health professional in Colorado, who asked me not to reveal her name, said, “Our health care system is abusive.”Its victims are hard-working Americans.It’s time for a basic national health insurance plan, Barbara said. She suggests one that isn’t all-inclusive but does include incentives for preventive care. Something needs to be done to stave off the increasing rate of obesity and diabetes and related illnesses that place unbelievable demands on a broken system.We must take responsibility for our individual health. We must take responsibility for indulging ourselves in temporal pleasures that indirectly but adversely affect others.We need choices to do so.We must take responsibility for our apathy toward a system that is built on sick care.We must take responsibility for electing those who will govern policies that mitigate exclusivity in America.We must take responsibility to ensure the freedom of artists, writers, dog groomers, hair stylists – all who choose to live by their essence.Carl Jung said, “Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. To perform this difficult office, it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being.”Must those individuals sacrifice their health, too?marylou@newfalconherald.com

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