He is a retired and still-working senior who last February got the double whammy of a deteriorating economy and a disintegrating spine. He was laid off by a local printing company. He lost his insurance with the job Feb. 2, which meant he had to rely on Medicare to pay for do-it-or-else surgery to try to relieve constant, excruciating back pain. Even with 80 percent coverage from Medicare, he would be left with a bill of more than $50,000.
Once he was laid off, he had to decide right then, before the insurance coverage from the company ended. He had the surgery and Meeker, and his wife, Janice, who has her own history of heart trouble, kept their insurance coverage going under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
COBRA required them to pay the full premium of their employer's coverage, which they did in case the really expensive surgery was followed by really expensive complications.
When the two months of COBRA ran out, the couple purchased the government plan's supplemental program, Medicare Advantage, which covers most of the cost of Janice Meeker's heart medication.
The couple has had to scale way back but is grateful to be together taking on life.
"Nobody thinks it's going to happen to them, just like everybody thinks they won't be the one who gets sick or gets cancer," said Kori Novak, a public health professor with the University of Phoenix who's currently working on a gerontology doctorate. She noted that rising health costs alone, even if you never go to the doctor or get sick, are making just having insurance a financial strain.
When there is a tragic accident or illness, money and other concerns shift from being an issue in your mind to deep-seated feelings and fears in your heart, said Novak, who has been a health-care worker — and a patient — on four continents.
"When it's the health of your child or your loved one or it's your own health, cost is no object," Novak said. But it's a big object to the health-care system providing the care, and it's often a big debt, which often will go unpaid. The United States has spent billions of dollars on the best, highest-tech advances and "providers like to use them, particularly in last-minute or end-zone kinds of cases," she said.
"But they cost a lot of money and are helping inflate overall health-care costs," Novak said. "But a kind of Catch-22 is occurring because people are dropping insurance coverage or being dropped from coverage, they are vulnerable to obtaining basic preventive care, or they have a traumatic accident and get left without any coverage and the provider gets left holding the bag."
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