Looking for Individual Health Insurance? Good Luck

Imagine Donna Dubinsky’s surprise when she was turned down for health insurance. The reason? She had a corn on her toe.

Donna had applied for individual coverage for herself and her family, after they lost benefits through her husband’s employment. (This is coverage sold directly to the public with no employer involved.) No family member had ever had a serious medical problem, but all were rejected for minor ailments. She chronicled the ordeal in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times .

Kathy and Henry Hamman suffered a similar fate when they applied for individual policies at the age of 61. Neither had a history of serious conditions, but BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee took only a few days to turn them down.

Donna, Kathy and Henry are hardly alone. Over 12 million Americans were reportedly rejected for individual policies over a recent three-year period. That’s over one-third of all who applied. For those between 55 and 64, the rate is closer to 40 percent.

Many of those who are rejected eventually do find coverage after several tries. But their premiums can be exorbitant, often many times higher than what they can afford.

Do you have good coverage now? That’s great, but it’s no guarantee you will be safe. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that over ten percent of people with individual policies were uninsured two years later. Those with employer coverage didn’t fare much better. Over 7 percent of them lost their health insurance over the same time period.

The Cobra law offers some help. It lets you keep employment-based insurance after your job ends. But it can be prohibitively expensive, and it is time-limited. After its protection expires, you’re on your own. You’re safe when you reach age 65 and Medicare kicks in, but that can be a long wait for some.

Put all of this together, and you have a system that leaves over 50 million people uninsured.

The problem will largely disappear when Obamacare becomes fully effective in 2014. After that, no one can be denied health insurance for medical reasons. The Dubinskys, the Hammans, and the rest of us will finally be safe.

Nevertheless, opponents of the law say it is so defective that it should be repealed and replaced. They are pushing hard for repeal, but after two years of health reform debates, they have yet to offer any replacement proposal. Repeal without an alternative plan would leave millions of people with no health insurance and no way to get it.

That would be unconscionable.

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