Message to Congress: COBRA Bites

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I am a statistic, one of the millions of Americans laid off in early 2009. And thus, my family is currently insured through COBRA, the federal program that guarantees continued health coverage for people who have left full-time jobs. The acronym stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, but that’s just gobbledy gook. They could have named it a million different things that would have resulted in much less ominous acronyms. Instead, Congress was onto something when they named it after one of the most iconic poisonous snakes on earth—not to mention the terrorist bunch of bad guys on the old “GI Joe” cartoons. (Yo Joe!)

I know that COBRA is better than nothing. But there’s got to be a better way. Over the course of a year, factoring in our COBRA premiums and the kick-in-the-balls 2 percent administrative fee, my family’s health insurance bill is about $16,000 normally (not factoring in co-pays, ER visits, outside-network charges, and such). A provision in the stimulus bill is covering a good chunk of that for nine months, and for this my family is very grateful. But this is no long-term solution.

So, let me join millions of others and ask Congress to put their squabbles aside and come up with a workable long-term solution.

The big question is what the heck we should do. One of the best stories I’ve seen about healthcare in America was on “Frontline” a while back. As the show explains, the U.S. spends an absurd amount on costs that have nothing to do with providing actual care. Our administrative costs are completely out of whack with what other countries spend—not surprising, seeing as we get about 15 or 20 letters in the mail every month related to our coverage, and we still wind up having to call once or twice a month and speak with a vaguely helpful customer service representative to clear up some or other matter.

The “Frontline” story also made clear that something’s got to give. We’re just not that rich a nation to sustain things. Even while I had a full-time job, my health insurance premiums went up about 10 percent every year. How could that work in the long run? Sacrifices need to be made, and the two big ones are probably that doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies will make less money, and patients will receive somewhat worse, perhaps slower treatment (at least in terms of access to experimental and expensive drugs and procedures). I think I can deal with that, so long as it costs me a lot less than $16,000 a year. And oh yeah, I don’t want anyone in my family to die because of red tape.

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