I have suddenly found myself in the ranks of the uninsured.
At 63, I left my workplace and started a company out of my home. I knew I would need private individual insurance, which would be costly. But my husband and I (he left the same employer but is old enough for Medicare) thought we could swing it.
Before I left my job, I called an insurance broker. He told me about plans that would cost about $350 a month. That seemed reasonable. I filled out a questionnaire about my health, which I thought was very good.
Then the broker called back. I was shocked. Connecticare rejected me outright.
He explained that insurance companies use a point system and I had racked up too many points (from a too-high body mass index, medicines I am taking for fibromyalgia and depression, and surgery I had last year). He said if Connecticare wouldn't take me, none of the other insurance companies would, either.
He suggested I try the state's Charter Oak plan, which takes people like me with pre-existing conditions. It would mean paying $568 a month, but they couldn't turn me down, he said.
Yet they did. Because I left my job voluntarily, I wouldn't be eligible for six months.
So I am out of options, walking a health tightrope without a net.
I'm not alone. According to a 2010 AARP profile of Americans ages 50 to 64, 8.9 million are uninsured (about 65,000 of them in Connecticut). That's 3.7 million more than in 2000.
The statistics indicate that people without insurance typically don't get routine health screenings that might spot potential problems, and they often put off going to a doctor until they end up in the emergency room — or worse.
I can relate. I'm due for a regular OB-GYN checkup and a mammogram, but I'm putting them off. I used to take routine lab tests for granted. I looked at my insurance statement from time to time and was shocked at their cost, but my share was always very small. Now my bottom line will be the top line — the cost without any reductions or payments from insurance.
And that's just ordinary, everyday preventive health costs. What about illness? You'd better believe I'll be among the millions who tough it out rather than go to the doctor. I'm just praying nothing — like a car accident or heart attack — puts me in the hospital. I read about an uninsured woman like me who sings, "Hallelujah" at the end of each day she has made it without a health issue. It's a feeling I now understand all too well.
I started my new life sans insurance on July 1, so I've made it almost two months without coverage. I did pay $124 for a dental cleaning (lost that coverage too), but so far, that's been it.
I'll work at staying healthy until Oct. 1, when I can officially shop Obamacare options, with coverage to start in January. Under the Affordable Care Act that so many deplore and want to repeal, I will have my only chance for insurance coverage until I'm 65.
Recently, I learned that under the state health exchange for uninsured people, the base premium would be in the $200-per-month range. But then I found that there's a multiplier depending on age. I'll be 64 in September, so I'll have the highest multiplier — three. I will pay three times as much as a younger person. The very least my premiums will be, for bronze coverage, is about $610 per month (in Hartford County).
Fortunately, I will only have to pay this high rate for eight months, until another birthday I'm looking forward to: 65. That's when I'm eligible for Medicare — and I'm praying that stays around for a while.
In the meantime, I'm weaning myself off several expensive prescription medications. I've just gone off my antidepressant. And now I'm wondering whether I should have.
Being in the ranks of the uninsured, and soon having to pay a high premium to be insured at all, is getting me down.
Linda D. Johnson lives in West Hartford.Copyright © 2015, CT Now