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Local Column

Wimbiscus: Obamacare was great and terrible to me

Bill Wimbiscus
Bill Wimbiscus

“We must work together to save Americans from Obamacare.”

– President Donald Trump

Obamacare was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

It’s also one of the worst.

Back in 2013, I was working full time at a job that didn’t offer health insurance, freelancing part time at a job that offered a minimal “wellness plan,” and spending whatever time was left over on starting my own business.

Small wonder I got sick.

Way sicker than my “wellness plan,” which capped yearly benefits at $1,000, could handle.

Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act was about to kick in.

For $700 a month, I got health insurance, real health insurance, just like the health insurance I’d received through my previous five employers, the insurance plans I’d dutifully paid into for more than three decades yet rarely used.

The timing couldn’t have been better: Obamacare started Jan. 1, 2014. I started on chemo a week later.

My first foray into government-mandated health care ended three months and about 3,000 maximum out-of-pocket dollars later, when I landed a job at a place that offered an employer-supported insurance plan at half the cost. Problem solved. At least, until I got too sick to work and my COBRA ran out at the end of 2015.

When I went back on Obamacare in 2016, things had changed. The premiums were a lot more expensive. In 2014, for $700 a month you could get a top-of-the line gold plan with a $1,650 deductible. By 2016, that same $700 a month bought a silver plan with a $3,500 deductible.

That wasn’t the only difference. When the marketplace debuted in 2014, Will County residents could choose from dozens of plans provided by at least 10 major insurance carriers. Two years later, more than half of those carriers had pulled out of Illinois. Finding a plan that both my local doctor and Chicago oncologist would accept was nearly impossible.

Fortunately I was able to find one plan that met all my needs from a company I’d never heard of: Land of Lincoln Health. It was a great insurer, worth every cent. After I maxed out, they covered all my bills. I never had a problem, never had a complaint … right up until the day the company went bankrupt 10 months later. Another casualty in the evolution of Obamacare.

So now it’s 2017. That same $700 a month now only gets you a bronze plan with a $7,000 deductible. Which means I need to shell out a total of $15,400 before the benefits kick in. That’s daunting enough, but even more so when you consider my wife’s bronze premium runs about $920 a month.

As if that wasn’t enough, this year there were only two companies to choose between in our area. My local doctor and Chicago oncologist accepted neither, so I had to drop both physicians and get new ones.

So when Trump said Obamacare is broken, I tend to agree.

Granted, I’m not your typical Obamacare enrollee: I’m aging, and I’m unsubsidized.

Of the record 11.5 million people who signed up for Obamacare this year, about 80 percent get government subsidies, many of whom pay $50 to $100 a month for premiums … at least, if you can trust some of the conflicting information on the internet.

Most of them are younger than I am. Most of them either make less money than I do or have dependents. And, truth be told, most need insurance as much or even more than I do. How any of them cover a bronze deductible is beyond me.

So now House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republicans are going to “fix” Obamacare. Yeah, I can hardly wait.

Here’s a thought: force everyone in Congress to relinquish their dirt-cheap federally supported commercial insurance plans and go on whatever alternative they come up with.

Truth is, if you’re stuck in Obamacare, there’s probably only one way out: find a job with an employer-supported commercial insurance plan.

Either that, or make sure you never get sick.

• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at news@theherald-news.com.

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