Monday, November 11, 2013

Op-Ed: Obamacare closes door to opportunity

Today, I had an op-ed published in the Austin American-Statesman on the topic of the effect of Obamacare on young entrepreneurs. You can read it on the Statesman's website here, or I've reprinted the text below:

Recent news reports have featured a flood of stories about Americans receiving cancellation notices from their health insurance companies due to changes required by Obamacare, and many of the soon-to-be-cancelled policies are the "catastrophic" plans popular with younger people. 

Yet it’s these catastrophic plans that offer financial freedom to many young entrepreneurs. This is exactly why I insured myself this way the past few years, and why I'm saddened to see access to this type of insurance coverage sharply limited under Obamacare. 

After graduating law school and practicing law for several years in Orlando, I decided to start my own business, continuing my election and campaign finance law practice and offering political and communication consulting services. In a story familiar to anyone who has ever been self-employed, I loved the freedom and flexibility of being my own boss, but had to make financial sacrifices, especially because most of my work was tied to the feast-and-famine calendar of the election cycle. 

One key financial decision was the health insurance plan I chose. As a non-smoking female in my early 30s, I did not have a need for frequent doctor visits, but wanted to make sure I was covered for a major illness or injury. 

My "catastrophic" plan actually covered far more than just catastrophes. The policy I obtained from Blue Cross Blue Shield provided me with not only very good coverage after the deductible was met, but also significant benefits that kicked in below the deductible, including completely covering an annual ob-gyn exam with no out-of-pocket cost to me, negotiated discount rates for doctor visits within a very broad provider network, as well as discounted prescriptions, flu shots, and other benefits. 

According to my records, my deductible ranged between $2,500 and $5,000 and I paid $80-100 per month. The discounted rate for walk-in clinics was around $50-75, and doctor visits were around $100-150. Alternative policies with lower deductibles and more comprehensive care would have been between $300-500 a month, costing me an extra $2,000-$5,000 a year. I could have visited the doctor dozens of times under my plan and still never come anywhere close to paying that amount. 

Beyond the absurdity of requiring women decades past childbearing years to pay for maternity care – not to mention men – Obamacare requires people like me to pay for a level of medical services that we do not want and will not use. All I wanted was to treat my health insurance as a way to insure myself against the unpredictable risk of a catastrophic illness or injury, not as a membership in a prepaid health plan. 

Being self-employed forces you to be creative, thrifty, and prioritize your expenses. The extra cost of a more comprehensive plan would have been the breaking point in my budget during the leaner times between election cycles, so the best choice for me was a catastrophic plan. Had Obamacare been enacted five years ago, it would have killed my ability to pursue my dreams.

When I launched my own business, I expected to be on a different financial track than if I had stayed in the downtown law firm life, but I wouldn’t trade the last few years for anything. I’ve been able to travel around the country, attended several of the presidential primary debates in person, and had a front row seat as two long-shot candidates named “Rubio” and “Cruz” went from polling in the single digits to being called “Senator.” Now my career path has led me to a great opportunity with the Texas Public Policy Foundation working on criminal justice reform, but I would not have been able to get here without the years toiling on the campaign trail, writing freelance articles, and chasing a multitude of consulting jobs to add up to a just-squeaking-by budget. 

While Obamacare’s supporters praise the expansion of “more comprehensive” policies, what is actually happening is the door to the American dream is closing for other young entrepreneurs.

Sarah Elizabeth Rumpf is the Strategic Communications Manager for Right on Crime, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Before moving to Texas, she ran her own election law and political consulting practice based out of Central Florida.

[Cross-posted at Texas Public Policy Foundation and The Bell Towers]

Follow me on Twitter at @rumpfshaker

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