I love using titles that scream for attention! In this case, I’d like to talk about income and health care costs.
WARNING: POLITICAL OPINION AHEAD! The one thing that has destroyed the advances of my net income more than any other thing is the Affordable Care Act of 2010. I know I’m not the only one. Due to increases in health insurance premiums – which, other than this year, have been far greater than my increase in pay rate – my take-home pay is about what it was in 2009. (That’s 7 years ago, for the math-challenged). Not only have premiums gone up, the choices for health care plans have drastically decreased in number. At my company, we are now only offered one Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and 2 choices for High Deductible/Health Savings Account plans. I’m in the High Deductible plan with the higher premiums and lower deductible. This high deductible basically means that you have no insurance and pay 100% of all costs until you reach the deductible. There is also an out-of-pocket maximum, which we come extremely close to reaching every year. What I will call disposable income – when you take away out-of-pocket medical expenses from take-home pay – my disposable income is about where it was in 2005.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive President Obama for this. If you are a healthy person that rarely needs to visit a doctor or receive any medical treatment, the law has probably had very little impact on you. But for those of us that aren’t in that group, this has been an unmitigated disaster. No one asked for this, but it was forced on us anyway. The President had an enabler in the Congress that actually opened her mouth and said out loud, “We need to pass this law so we can see what is in it.” The law is made even worse by limiting the amount you can put in your Health Spending account – an amount that barely scratches the surface of the mountain of medical bills sitting on my desk right now.
Side note: This is the point where a lot of people – almost all of them black – now dismiss me as a racist for daring to suggest Obama has ever done anything wrong. These people are easy to identify. They call out someone’s criticism of him, and then say something such as, “our black President just can’t win” or “only our first black President has had to endure such things” or something along that line that insinuates that all criticism of anything the President says or does is motivated wholly and only by racism. This is hogwash. This is one of the worst laws passed in recent history, and it doesn’t matter what color anybody is. It is not as bad as slavery, as Dr. Ben Carson said. It does have the redeeming feature of outlawing the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But it has done a lot of damage to people in my section of the economic spectrum.
Let’s get back to money. I sit in the toughest place to be on the economic scale – between the poverty line and the median income line. Again, for the math-challenged, every set of data has a median, a point where half of the data is below it and half of it is above it. In Charlotte, the median income is around $55,000 a year. The poverty line is between $20,000 and $28,000, depending on how large your family is. For a family of 2, like mine, it’s about $23,000. Below the poverty line, you are eligible for a number of assistance programs – food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, Aid for Dependent Children, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare, and so on. If you have chronic health conditions and are on Medicare, you can get a nurse or Certified Nursing Assistant to provide some care for a few hours each day. My wife used a number of these services when she was single and had reached a point where she could no longer work. Once we got married, it all went away, and the one that hurt the most was the loss of the care from the CNA. All the caregiver activities thus fell to me. I know there are plenty of people out there in that spot as well. You love the person and are happy to do whatever you can for them, but you do get plenty exhausted. I’m quite willing to admit that some days, as I struggle to keep ahead of the cooking, laundry, trash and dust that I think to myself, “Lord, I sure do wish Brenda was still here.”
So there we sit, above the poverty line and below the median line. The situation isn’t dire – I’m much closer to the median line than the poverty line – and if you just consider gross pay, I get paid very well. But when you have these health care expenses taking up so much of your paycheck, there are some big challenges. In this space, with disposable income 11 years behind today’s prices, you’re forced to live check-to-check. It is very difficult to increase your savings and retirement account balances. (This is why I keep telling the wife we are never retiring to Florida, because I’ll never be able to afford to retire. I’m a WTD – Work Til Death.) Since 2005 the average rent for 2-bedroom apartments in Charlotte has gone from about $600 to $1,100. The average weekly grocery bill is up 15% in that time. Everything else you need to live – clothing, electricity, communication, etc. – is a lot higher. I’ve only been able to chip away a little of the non-medical debt we have.
Like I said, I’m not in a dire situation. When my bonus and both Federal and state tax refunds all came in at larger amounts than I expected, I was able to secure 2 vacations for us – the Reach 2016 Discipleship Summit that our church is part of, and my IAAP Summit 2016 administrative professionals conference. These trips will be a welcome break from the daily grind of trying to get ahead – a tough thing to do when you sit between poverty and average. And we can thank President Obama and his pet project / calamity, the Affordable Care Act of 2010, for it.