New Rules for Old Healthcare: Many of us are ‘Going it Alone’
After nine months of back-and-forth public debate, big corporate bail-outs and strained political ties amongst members of Congress, the shock of the new economy and all its moving pieces has officially worn off. But healthcare reform still dominates our national agenda at a time when few of us can afford to be without. Whether or not the so-called “Public Option” becomes part of any finalized healthcare bill signed into law, the average American will have some vital decisions to make about when, where and how they seek coverage. The old rules of group coverage no longer apply in the new economy.
No Safety in Numbers
Just as fast as the U.S. housing meltdown completely redefined what it means to live within our means, so too are the days when finding a good job guaranteed you’d find affordable health coverage where you work. Companies of all sizes are cutting back benefits now that they’ve cut back their workforces. As a result, the old-school “pool” insurance model is proving less and less sustainable. The good news is while debate still rages on Capitol Hill, health insurance providers are restructuring their product portfolios to make coverage more affordable for millions of individuals — no matter if they’re employed or not.
“Next to salary, health insurance is the largest expense any company has,” says Larry Johnson, a human resources officer with Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the nation’s largest for-profit hospital company. “The reality is that individuals can go online and out in the open market now and get low cost, low deductible coverage on their own. Lots of times it’s cheaper than what we can provide our own employees.”
In the same way telephone companies broke themselves up into smaller, regional providers in the 1980s (to address government concerns that telecommunications had become a monopoly of a few big providers), health insurance companies are breaking themselves up from the inside out. It was clear several years ago, says one industry health insurance executive, many healthcare companies saw the governmental reform train coming down the tracks.
“Changing an entire product set, expanding a marketing strategy and creating a new pricing model for an industry that’s been pretty much self-regulated up until now doesn’t happen overnight,” says Miami-based independent health insurance agent Jerry Sommers. “Public option or not, this has been in the corporate pipeline for years before it ever got into the media or Congress. It’s only going to get more confusing before it gets better. I’m quoting a lot of policies for people who are scared of what we might end up with when the government gets done.”