Monday, 10 August 2009

Thoughts on Health Insurance

I've been fortunate, thus far in life, in my health insurance coverage, and in my ability to make sure FG gets the coverage she needs, too. And we've both been lucky (knocking on wood here) not to have to use that coverage all that much. But even for me, in my absurdly health-insurance-privileged position, there have been some twists & turns along the way.

Like learning that separate is not equal in New York, where married folks in my office could get their spouses covered, but FG and I had to register as domestic partners and then she had to buy the cheapest possible private coverage, which my workplace then partially reimbursed me for. But it wasn't just the hassle of that: the federal government taxed that reimbursement as income, whereas legally married people could have their payments withheld from their paychecks. The bottom line: I paid more than married colleagues in the same situation.

And then we moved (back) to Massachusetts and got married. But I had to raise a fuss at my school in Rhode Island in order to purchase spousal coverage for her. Your marriage certificate is not good enough, they said: we need bank statements, credit card statements, joint leases. They tried to claim it was "Rhode Island law" which was bunk: at that time, RI law permitted them to choose whether or not to recognize my marriage, and the AG actually expressed the preference that employers should recognize it. A few angry e-mails and some educatin' later, they accepted the marriage certificate.

So yeah, repealing DOMA, or legalizing gay marriage nationally, would have addressed most of our personal health insurance issues thus far. But really, that's ridiculous. FG's access to health insurance should never have depended in the first place on her being married to someone lucky enough to have some access to employer-based spousal coverage. This is exactly the point that many people make when criticizing the focus of the LGBT movement on same-sex marriage: it solves a ton of problems for coupled, prvileged queers, but a lot fewer for everyone else. A really progressive movement should be about more than allowing the most privileged of an oppressed class to join the oppressers. (Damn I'm on an anti-oppression kick these days.)

Most recently, as dedicated readers know, I've finished school and taken a job. That job offers health insurance but, because it is a one-year job, there is no subsidy for that health insurance. Which means it is very expensive. For around the same sum, I could have gotten covered through FG's school instead.

But hey presto! We live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which passed a law a while back requiring everyone to have health insurance and requiring health insurance companies to make various kinds of private, individual coverage available. I don't really know all the details, but I do know that it meant I could go to a clearinghouse web site, enter the details of my situation, and get hooked up with a plan that costs me just a bit over half what my other options would have cost. I signed up in a jiffy and my new card arrived in the mail today.

I'm not a health-policy wonk. But the moral of the story seems clear enough: when the state gets involved to ensure universal coverage & reasonable(ish) options for people (there were much cheaper options for those with less income), it makes things better. I remember my English friends gasping in horror when I described the system in the United States, and quite seriously apologizing for ever complaining about their system in my presence.

And thus ends MacCool's Public Service Announcement on the great health insurance debate. Back to your regularly scheduled sex & gender angst soon, I promise.


Dylan said...

I did an entire project on the Commonwealth healthcare connector and it was surprising how many people still fell through the cracks. I was much more disenchanted with it after that but I'm glad to see it worked out well for someone. Getting benefits for same sex partners should be easier, especially in Massachusetts. Maybe one day.

Leo MacCool said...

@ dylan: i have no doubt about it--in fact some of my friends have had to climb their ways out of those very cracks. but i do think it's an improvement, however slight, and an indication that the omg! legislating on this will wreak endless havoc! reaction is just wrong. not that many of my readers probably feel that way...

Ms. Avarice said...

You know, Massy sounds better and better...any chance I could order up some warmth before the move? :)

Anonymous said...

This is interesting. My question is, are CATS covered under Obama family health care plan? said...

Oh don't even get me started on health insurance inequities.

Let's just say that CT had civil unions and when I tried to get Jess covered mine (b/c his is crap!) I found out that private companies had the OPTION not to cover same-sex couples.

Now we have marriage and now they are hiding behind ERISA/DOMA laws saying that insurance is governed by the federal government who doesn't recognize us at all.

'round and 'round we go...

I am ALL for universal healthcare and Palin's "death squads" (so long as she's the first customer, anyway).

Oo, did I say that?

Damn you Leo, ya got me all riled up. LOL