I’ve been thinking about the ongoing national debate about health insurance and trying to frame my thoughts from the perspective of a single woman in keeping with the mission of “Call Me Miss.”
Twenty years ago, the college where I worked paid for my health insurance. All of it. In fact, all eligible employees who were single had one hundred percent of their premium covered, while employees electing a “family plan” had a generous but not total portion of their premium employer-paid. “What a deal for singles!” you’re probably thinking, and you are half right. It was a great deal, but it was an inequitable one…for singles. You see, in terms of employee compensation and employer cost, the family subsidy was significantly higher in real terms, a much larger benefit, than the subsidy provided singles. Employees who were married or who had kids or both were automatic recipients of higher compensation packages than the single professors who taught in the adjoining classrooms or the staff who held identical positions.
Insurance costs skyrocketed in the early nineties, a situation that threw many an employer into a tizzy and that spurred the Clinton administration’s efforts to reform the insurance industry. Clinton’s effort, after much floundering, foundered. In the meantime, employers struggling to cope with annual increases to insurance costs that were in the neighborhood of twenty-five percent, needed to staunch the hemorrhaging in their budgets. What to do? What to do?
After much number-crunching, trend analyses, and meetings, meetings, meetings, a brilliant solution was identified and quickly implemented: eliminate one hundred percent coverage for single employees! Problem solved. Why, oh why, didn’t we think of it sooner?!
Over the next twenty years, the employer-paid portion of health insurance for single employees was reduced four more times. It was an easy go-to place to find quick cash in the operating budget, even during the years when annual premium increases dropped out of the stratosphere to modest single-digits and, for a few years, were flat. In fairness, during this time, the family subsidy was also decreased; however not as often and not as sharply.
It was during this period that the college also introduced coverage for unmarried “domestic partners” (gay or straight) and for “families of two”—i.e., a less expensive family plan for childless married couples or a single parent with one kid. In order to fund these wonderful programs, singles were told to pay more so others could enjoy a new benefit. Social equity, at nobody’s expense…except the singles’. Even now it fills me with rage. Think about it, and think about it hard: self-declared “partners,” not married but enjoying marital relations, are eligible for insurance coverage. A single person living with a blood relative is not entitled TO PURCHASE the same coverage for the relative, even though the number of persons involved is exactly the same and a significant, socially sanctioned relationship exists.
If there were ever discrimination on the basis of sex, this is it! Employer: You gettin’ any? Employee: Yeah! I just moved in with my girlfriend. Employer: Great…sign here and you and your honey will be insured! Employee: My sister has come to live with me; she’s not working. May I sign up for “familes of two” insurance? Employer: You gals doin’ it? Employee: Uh, no. Employer: Sorry. No can do.
I sound like a bitter, self-centered bitch, don’t I? And what’s this tale of woe got to do with the Baucus bill, Obamacare, a public option, or anything else you want to throw into the debate? To me, the answer to that question is blindingly simple: Unintended consequences. Collateral damage. Society’s priorities. Call it whatever you want, but you can bet your ass that when a bill is finally hammered out and signed and a million new regulations and guidelines are written, the biggest loser will be the single person. It just makes too much cents to have it be otherwise.