Microblog: what’s your percentage?

This is how we can have a rational conversation about health insurance. Ask yourself and everyone you know three questions:

1. What percentage of your annual income do you spend on health care costs?*
2. How many people does that cover?
3. What do you think is a reasonable percentage?

My husband and I (both self-employed) spend about 20% of our income on health insurance and medical costs. How about you?


One more question: Should all Americans have access to affordable health care like we have access to water, electricity, & education?

Here is what I think.

There was a time in America when education was totally private: people who wanted their children to go to school paid for it. Eventually, Americans decided that public education was such an incredible public good, i.e., something everyone benefits from, that we moved to a taxpayer-funded system of education, open to all. And, of course, there are still private schools for families who want to make that choice.

There was a time in America when clean water and electricity were available only to the wealthy. The poor pulled up water from wells or dipped buckets into dirty rivers, and lit their homes with candles and lanterns because they had no choice. (My father-in-law, who died in July, did not have electricity on his street until he was 10 years old.)

Our fellow citizens argued and grumbled, but eventually decided that it was a benefit to the entire nation if all Americans had access to water and electricity. So programs were put in place, funded in part by taxpayers and in part by consumers, to make that happen.

Now the debate has turned to health insurance. My grandparents did not have it when they were young. In the middle of the last century, it became a widespread job benefit, and programs were put in place to insure the vulnerable; elderly, poor and disabled people. (The other place you are guaranteed health care is in prison.)

In the past three generations, insurance has moved from the privilege of the rich to something that most Americans consider a basic part of life, like education, electricity, and water.

I am all about capitalism. I love capitalism. I am a small business owner and so is my husband and it’s working for us. Almost.

One of our three adult kids doesn’t have insurance. Another one will lose her coverage in three months. My friends who are out of work have no insurance. People who might take the plunge into small business ownership don’t because they are afraid to leave their job and give up their health insurance. Americans die and suffer needlessly every day because health care in this country has become a trip to the roulette wheel.

The time has come for us to agree that all Americans deserve basic health care coverage – the same for all people in all states. If you want a fancier program with bells and whistles, you can pay extra. The insurance companies have to buck up. When your service is considered a public good – a public necessity – you have to trade in outrageous short-term profits for long-term secure cash flow.

*Health care costs = insurance premiums, co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses

PS – Check out this comparison of our system to Japan’s.

PPS – Are you sure that what you pay for will be enough? According to a 2007 article in the New York Times, "an estimated three-quarters of people who are pushed into personal bankruptcy by medical problems actually had insurance when they got sick or were injured."

PPPS – Yes, this stills counts as a microblog because much of this is taken from a blog entry from several months ago.

13 Replies to “Microblog: what’s your percentage?”

  1. I totally agree with you. I don’t know what percentage my husband and I pay as we both are covered through our jobs, but a portion of that coverage is taken out of our salaries and then there are the copays. I used to live in Israel and when I returned to this country it was discouraging as a single mom with a small child not to have any access to health care coverage until a few years later when I got a job that had coverage. And in Israel, everyone is covered with a basic plan and if you want more choice in dr. or more convenience in some other way, you pay a little more. Many people are opposed to “tiered” systems like that, but I think it’s way better than what we have now! Insurance should not be a profit-driven industry any more.

  2. In the UK we have both private and public healthcare systems. The public one is called the NHS (National Health Service) and has been offering a really good service for decades and has saved millions of lives. I am grateful for it, as without it I could not be treated for medical problems.


  3. What kills me is why the major manufacturers are not on the bandwagon for universal single payer. They have to include medical costs in the price of their products, which makes them less competitive.
    If health insurance can’t be single payer, it should all be non-profit, including drug companies.

  4. I live in Belgium, where our health is covered by the state via other organisations. a doctor’s visit for, say, the flu, costs you 25€, you pay, hand in a ticket the doctor gives you to the governmental agency of your choice (there are a few different ones) and you are paid back 90% I think. something around there. We’re very happy with the system, even though we pay a lot of taxes (somewhere between 30-40% i believe, i’m a student and live with the parents so i haven’t really done any of this for myself yet) we can be sure when something happens, we can afford it. my little sister had a defunct heartvalve and we never had to eat a slice of bread less because of it, even though she had open heart surgery trice and was transported across the country by an ambulance. so, i support government-aided healthcare.

  5. Thank you, thank you. I will be reading this to my 8th graders tomorrow when we discuss current events.

  6. So many people complain about one part or another of the current plan, and they may be right, but Congress need to do SOMETHING. Pass a plan, and then tweak it, but for goodness sake get SOMETHING in place now. My mother is on disability and has Medicaid, but it doesn’t cover dental or vision. She had a front tooth break off completely, and Medicaid didn’t consider it essential enough to pay a dime. Even at the local low-cost once-a-month clinic, which basically just charges for materials, she had to pay hundreds of dollars. For a tooth! Kind of an important thing! She also had to pay for her eye exam and glasses out of pocket.

  7. Hi Laurie,

    We spent around 8% of our total salaries (pre-taxed) on health insurance for three people. This may seem do-able, but considering we used to have no monthly costs, no thousands in deductibles, and no constant calls to insurance to ask why we weren’t covered for my yearly female exam, this 8% is a very stressful percentage. We also have a new house with new cars and a new baby, so that 8% would be much better served in, oh, I don’t know, a savings account or CD.

    I lived in Sweden for a year as a high school student, and went I dislocated my shoulder during rugby (who knew the Swedes could be so vicious!), the free health care system did a good job in taking care of me.

    I wish for a better system in the U.S. But unlike the days when tax dollars started going to public education, I don’t think the U.S. government has the tools to do the same thing for health care. Is it because the government has gotten more complicated? Its citizens too apathetic? Its decision-makers too focused on self interests?

    And I have to say, I much rather have the administration focused on fixing the economy. That way, more people will at least have a job that will be having them pay 20% of their income for the privilege of health care. And yes, I agree that health care should be more of a right than a privilege. But I don’t think our decision-makers know how to do that just yet.

    Very best,

  8. I do agree with you on some points but have some questions? Where is the $ going to come from? What about the 21 million illegal aliens that don’t put into the pot? Will the US continue to crank out the lastest and greatest drugs to save so many lives, ie: cancer, diabetes..etc. if there is no incentive? Healthcare will eventually be ran like our education system which is a scary disgrace to our children and which also is still on the downfall.

  9. “What about the 21 million illegal aliens that don’t put into the pot?”

    I have to say that this is the argument that I understand the least.

    First off, (as I understand it) the way most national health care systems work, you still need to prove citizenship to get care. It’s not like I could have walked into see the doctor while I was living in the UK and not had to pay anything just because I was living there. And even if that isn’t true, that wouldn’t be hard to set up.

    Secondly, they have actually done studies that show that, for example, California’s illegal immigrant population pays much more in taxes than they drain out of the system.* Aside from the fact that “illegal immigrant” =/= not paying income taxes (necessarily), people pay taxes in all sort of ways, from sales tax to paying your portion of your landord’s property tax.

    *I will grant that this may have something to do with CA screwy tax system, which I do not endorse for other states.

    Also, sorry for the lack of citation, I saw it in the LA Times a couple of years ago.

  10. I appreciate your thought and would like to look into the statement of CA illegal aliens put into the pot more than they take out by other taxes. I don’t know if the almost 10% tax on some foods and gas would cover the cost though. CA as a state (uknown with other states) does not turn away any person legal or not, insurance or not, at their hospitals. That leads to if we have 21 million illegal immigrants having an average of 2 babies in this generation we will have 22 million new born babies born in the US that are granted US citizenship. It is an exponential amount of people with their parents not putting into the pot. The number of people contributing unfortunately don’t add up. On the contrary, I do hope there will be some way to provide health care to all. I too have family members with none because of cost, and who have had to refuse emergy care due to the fact that the state could and would take away what they most preciously own and have worked so hard for their children….their home.

    Food for thought: Will my children: 6, 9 and 12. (Which is why I am on this sight because I absolutely love Laurie’s writings….and I read every book of of hers my kids read so they can talk about it with me. She had me at Fever…loved it…and am now reading it a second time with my 9 year old daughter….tears between us are there again…hee hee… anyways… will my children want to go on to 7+ years of medical school…be 100k+ indebt…and be away from their family for countless hours if it is a goverment run program????

  11. what health insurance.

    we are self-employed and my husband’s health insurance policy went up 20% in 2009 and 35% in Jan. 2010. we were priced out in this recession! Keep in mind that he has a $5,200 deductible and we feel LUCKY that he was able to get a cheaper policy at 60yr.old only because he doesn’t have any preexisting condition and isn’t on any Rx. The old policy was $480. a month with only two Dr.s visits a year paid for and no Rx card. The new policy is $230.(we pay 30% out of pocket) a month but the agent said to expect at least a 20% increase every year. Me, don’t even ask, because I’m stuck. I’ve been turned down 3 times by 3 companies because of preexisting conditions. Sour grapes for me. I’m not even asking for government run health care, but how about fair care? Coverage even though you don’t work for the government, a successful corporation, or profitable small business. Anyone can get coverage working for the government even though you have or a family member has pre-existing conditions coming out the Wahzoo. In fact, you can hand them your Wahzoo because it popped out and fell on the pavement and it will be fixed. Faircare is a start.

  12. health care

    This subject kills me.
    You know partially I agree with you. Our nation like many European nations is moving toward some type of subsidized health care insurance. Your examples of schooling, electricity, and so forth are telling. I guess my one thought is can we move slowly as a nation so that we can afford the changes that we make? We, as Americans, are generous, but I think most of us agree that we want our economy to survive. Our employment rate is 20 plus% underemployment. We have no revenue to do this all at once. It will kill our economy. Jobs that were considered recession proof are being slammed by the economic hardships. The bottom line is we cannot as a nation afford the type of coverage that is being brought to the house and senate right now. While Europe is always sited as the fount of knowing how to do a national health care, keep in mind their schooling system is not the same as ours. They begin sorting students into groups by the time they are in middle school. We cannot afford it all no matter how much we believe we can.

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