Opinion

Why we’re all in trouble

I’ve always been a little scared of the future. It just seems so open to possibility, and I never really settled on what I wanted out of the endless options.

I’ve been renting the same apartment for years because buying seemed too permanent—what if I decided to move out of state? What if I finally figure out the part about settling down with someone (and, in turn, appeasing my grandmother)?

The question about “where do you see yourself in five years” sends me into a panic.

So instead of thinking in terms of what I want to be doing five, 10 or 20 years down the road, I usually don’t.

People have tried to encourage me. The future is nothing to be scared of, they say. It’s something exciting to embrace and plan for.

But these people are liars. The future is scary—especially now that I’ve got some absolutely terrifying data to back me up.

According to a couple people who also seem very scared, too—Richard Young of John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and Jennifer DeVoe of Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland—none of us will afford medical care in 20 years.

The way things are trending, in less than 20 years the average family will face medical costs that are higher than their total income—all of it. Health insurance will cost more than the median income of an American household by 2037—which is the best-case scenario.

A less, and perhaps truer scenario, is this: The average cost of a family health insurance premium will equal 50 percent of the household income by the year 2021, and surpass the average household income by the year 2033, they say. And if out-of-pocket costs are added to the premium costs, the 50 percent threshold is crossed by 2018 and exceeds household income by 2030.

Possibly an exaggerated prediction, some say. But it really doesn’t sound like it: Between 2000 and 2009 the average annual increase in insurance premiums hovered at 8 percent, while household income rose an average of 2.1 percent. Average annual premiums rose 9 percent just last year, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And, as if you hadn’t heard, people are still having a hard time finding a job, let alone getting pay raises.

One of the unanswered factors in the mix is the PPACA. But if anything, insuring millions more people will likely cost us even more. Young and DeVoe say they’re skeptical about health reform’s impact on costs and favor cutting “administrative overhead in the health care system, namely profits earned by health insurance companies.”

One of the good guys from our past, Abraham Lincoln, said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”

That’s good news for me. As for health care costs, maybe that will just give us enough time to change the inevitable. We can only hope.

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer

Kathryn Mayer is Managing Editor for Benefits Selling magazine. She can be reached at kmayer@sbmedia.com

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