Opinion: ACC gov health insurance is unaffordable and inadequate

A local government employee contacted APN with a story about their struggles to afford needed healthcare, which you can read below. They say the health insurance plans made available by the ACC government are overly expensive and that they’d be better off on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, if that were possible. They are collecting their coworker’s opinions in a Google survey, which you can take here (if you are an ACC government employee). According to data they say they’ve collected so far, many government employees may share this worker’s concerns. -APN

As I write this, I am suffering from a flare-up of chronic pain.

The pain is concentrated in one specific knot, and at its worst, it is incapacitating. More than once, the pain has been severe enough to bring me to tears while at work. I used to see a primary care doctor who would give me cortisone injections directly into the knot, and they helped tremendously. Now that I am working for the ACC government, I can no longer afford to do so. 

I live with chronic, severe pain which goes untreated because despite working a full-time job, I cannot afford medical treatment. 

I am not alone here. Healthcare is inaccessible to ACC government employees. The health insurance plans available to us are completely unaffordable due to the combination of a high monthly premium and a high deductible.

For the year 2023, an ACC government employee’s cheapest possible option – assuming they qualify for the wellness credit – costs $117 per month (includes vision + dental), with a $4,000 deductible. What this means in practice is that an ACC government employee must pay, at a minimum, $5,404 (monthly premiums plus the deductible) before they reap any benefit from their insurance plan. Even once the deductible is met, the plan only pays 80%.

These costs are not insignificant to us. According to data published in 2021, the average ACC government employee makes under $50,000 per year. In 2021 there were 471 employees (myself included) who made less than $50,000; 64 employees made less than $31,200. Some make even less than this. We cannot afford these insurance plans.

Before I took a position with ACC government, I had a Health Insurance Marketplace plan with a subsidy. Today, my income and household size would qualify me for a $300/month subsidy. I would also qualify for “extra savings on other costs, like deductibles, co-payments, and coinsurance.” One Marketplace plan I reviewed offered a $0.00 deductible and an out-of-pocket maximum of $7,500; all for $109.71 a month after the subsidy.

Unfortunately, because my employer offers insurance, I do not qualify for the subsidy. I would actually be better off if the ACC government did not offer me insurance at all.

It is incredibly disheartening that the Federal government recognizes that my income is not enough to cover the cost of healthcare, but my own local government, my employer, has trapped me in a plan where I can expect to pay a minimum of $5,404 before insurance will cover my healthcare costs. How can the ACC government claim that they offer “competitive benefits”? How can they claim these plans “help employees stay healthy, feel secure, and maintain a great work/life balance?”

During my time with the ACC government, what was supposed to be a routine eye exam ended with a referral for further testing due to concern that I had a genetic disorder that causes blindness. I could not afford the test to determine if I was going to lose my eyesight. I had to wait until I got my tax return. I had to get through Thanksgiving and Christmas with that unanswered question hanging over my head.   

We cannot AFFORD to stay healthy. We lose a substantial portion of our income to health insurance which has such a high deductible that we cannot afford to use it.

We do not have “a great work/life balance.” I am still paying off doctors’ bills from two years ago – I cannot afford the new eyeglasses I desperately need; I cannot afford to treat my chronic pain; I cannot afford to go to the doctor when I am sick; I cannot afford to take care of my mental health. It is not just our health that suffers. The high cost of our insurance has a ripple effect on every aspect of our lives. Speaking personally, I would like to start a family, but I am unable to do so because I cannot afford pregnancy. A deeply personal decision has essentially been made for me. How is that an example of “great work/life balance?”     

In my time with ACC I have worked with, and befriended, extraordinarily talented, dedicated individuals. They also have been unable to afford the basic healthcare they need. They also have let health issues go unmanaged due to the cost. They also have suffered. Many of these extraordinary individuals have left the ACC government for higher pay and better benefits. Their departure is a loss to the government and to the Athens community as a whole. When I catch up with them, they all tell me the same thing: they have no regrets. They now have better access to healthcare, a higher salary, reduced financial stress and an all-round better quality of life.

I love what I do, but I know I could do the same work elsewhere and be paid more for it. So far, I have stayed because I love my community. But this is not sustainable. Each time I am forced to grit my teeth and work through crippling pain, each time I receive a collections notice for a doctors’ bill I could not afford, each time I have to pull money out of savings to afford my medication, I am reminded that there is little reward for my loyalty.

I wish that the ACC government cared half as much about me as I do about Athens.

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