When Delores LaFollette of Brainerd turned 60, her individual health-insurance premium shot up to $587 a month.
“My birthday gift,” she said ruefully, adding that the premium was higher than her house payment. “That’s when I kissed it goodbye,” she said about canceling her insurance and crossing her fingers that she remains in good health until she is eligible for Medicare coverage next year.
On Thursday, LaFollette and three other AARP volunteers from Minnesota shared their health-insurance woes shortly after the national advocacy group announced its endorsement of pending health-care reform legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Here’s a video of the national press conference.)
AARP’s endorsement is considered a major coup for the White House and House Democrats, who could vote this weekend. The House legislation includes language important to Americans age 50-plus, including: preserving Medicare, the health-care program for age 65-plus Americans; lowering prescription costs by closing Medicare Part D’s “doughnut hole”; prohibiting insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and limiting how much more insurers can charge older Americans than younger citizens.
LaFollette joined national AARP board member Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III, a former Minnesota attorney general, for a press conference in AARP’s St. Paul offices.
“Our endorsement is based upon what our members say they want and need,” Humphrey said. “The joy I have is that we don’t worry about partisanship. We worry about substantive [issues] … and I think the House bill does that.”
One remaining worry, he said, is how long pharmaceutical patents will be in force before more affordable generics are allowed on the market. AARP wanted a five-year limit; the White House wanted seven years, and each chamber of Congress has proposed a 12-year limit. The cost of “biologics (insulin, etc.) will do people in,” Humphrey said.
LaFollette, who is self-employed and operates rental properties, said she didn’t think she was giving up all that much by canceling her insurance four years ago. She faced a $3,000 deductible for “next to none” coverage. Still, “I hold my breath every day and my kids yell at me when I go up on the roof,” she said.
Harry and Char Jebens of Brooklyn Park, ages 68 and 67, are hopeful that the Medicare Part D doughnut hole will close. Each October, they have to figure out how much they need to put aside each month to cover their prescriptions. “Our biggest fear is cancer or having to pay for insulin,” Char Jebens said.
Retired nurse Molly Sullivan, age 62, has watched her extended COBRA coverage, negotiated as part of a union contract years ago, balloon to $800 a month from about $350 in 2002. The expense leaves the Maple Grove resident with about $500 a month to live on, and she has tapped her home equity line of credit to cover the COBRA costs. As a diabetic who also suffers from arthritis, she cannot buy a less expensive policy because she is considered “uninsurable.”
“I’m very careful with my decision-making and planning,” she said. “If this could happen to me, it could happen to anybody.”
Casey Selix, a news editor and staff writer for MinnPost.com, can be reached at cselix[at]minnpost.com. Follow her on Twitter.