Health insurance costs too much to bear
There are several major problems facing Bermuda’s future; one of these is a dwindling population. One of the significant contributing reasons is the cost of health insurance.
I have 11 friends who have sold out and moved elsewhere because of this. They are all like me, in that they worked for 40 years, raised and educated their children, both here and abroad, spent 20 years paying off their mortgages, paid their taxes, spent their earnings on living a comfortable lifestyle and then retired.
At this point, even with funds they had invested over time, they found this was too expensive a place to live and that health insurance premiums was a leading reason. So they have sold the one major asset — their home — cashed in and moved where the cost of living is bearable.
Right now, I am paying $4,700 a month to insure me and my wife. That is $56,000 a year. Unheard of anywhere else and it is not the most expensive!
It will only get worse as more and more people opt out and the companies share their earnings expectations among fewer and fewer clients — the all-to-common Bermudian business practice: when your profits halve, double the price.
Now I can only speak of BF&M because that is who I have been with for 48 years, but they are all the same. Every year, the increase in premiums has been multiples of the rise in the Consumer Price Index. I believe there was one year it was eight times, but certainly it has been often five or six times. These increases are compounded on one another, so it is even worse.
Why is this allowed and what is the cause?
It certainly isn’t the doctor’s fees because I get a co-pay for almost every time I use a health professional. They are paying the doctor whatever suits them and you, the patient, is picking up the difference.
It is so bad in some cases that I asked one receptionist if the insurance was just covering the tip! The fees paid to doctors are calculated for profits, period. But they also are designed to decrease usage.
That certainly had been a problem in the past. Back when insurance companies cared about the value for money paid, and policies covered 100 per cent of a visit, people were abusing the system and going to the doctor for any minor thing.
This co-pay business has been designed to make people think twice about wasting some doctor’s time over a trivial matter. And to increase profits! Now BF&M, I believe, has increased its dividend twice in the past four years, and for quarter after quarter reported stellar profits.
So it begs the question: why, paying what I am, should I be getting a $100 co-pay for a simple, universal service in dentistry such as a regular six-month checkup?
I have had one catastrophic medical event in my family, which involved a one-month stay at Lahey Clinic for treatment and later a further month for radiation.
Airfare for two, hotel for two, a daily food allowance for two and visits to specialists all covered by insurance. I never saw a bill!
So it is not all bad. When I called BF&M to tell them I was going to need their help, I was referred to their “bargain hunters” in Toronto. I was told I had a “standard policy” and therefore a limited selection of hospitals I could use.
When I first began work in 1972, my group negotiated the best policy that existed at the time, including major medical. I was surprised to find that the policy I had signed up for now was considered standard, and that I no longer had the best coverage, which I had signed up for. Never, I might add, reflected by a decrease in premium. I raised hell with the executive, but it proved to be futile, as it always does!
Why are premiums still rising at an unsustainable rate? One thing I noticed on my stays at Lahey was the huge number of Bermudians in my hotel who were there for radiation — at least 30 both times I was there. Just imagine the cost involved in housing these patients, let alone the airfares and food.
Now that we have a radiation treatment centre here in Bermuda, all these hundreds of one-month stays are finished. Think of the millions the insurance companies are not paying. Still the premiums go up exponentially. Here the public have provided the insurance companies a great way to make more money.
You will notice that during this whole Covid-19 episode, there has been no information from insurance companies assuring customers of any type premium relief or coverage continuity because of unemployment or inability of companies in financial hardship to keep up with premium payments.
This has been a windfall for the insurance industry. They are virtually “claims-free”. You can’t go to your dentist, chiropractor, sports medicine provider, get your eyes checked for new glasses, physiotherapist, the hospital or even your doctor unless it is an emergency. I’m sure I have missed some health provider and I apologise.
I confess, I don’t have a lot of faith in Kim Wilson for most things, but she was right on the money when she said in your paper that the Government wanted insurance companies to conduct business differently. I quote: “We are looking for each of those [insurance] companies to use more of the money you are paying in health insurance premiums for your health.”
This exodus of emigration is not over by a long shot, and I could be next.
R. DUNCAN MORAN
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