A car wreck a few months ago left Jean Wentzel and her husband unharmed but shaken about being without affordable insurance to protect against the unexpected. “It spooks you, because you know you could walk out your door and something totally out of control could happen, even if you’ve done all the right things yourself.”
Jean, 63, and her husband, Roy, 64, retired recently and live in Columbus, Ohio. Both worked for large telecommunications companies and moved around a fair amount for their jobs. Jean worked for AT&T for 22 and a half years; she intended to stay the 25 required to qualify for insurance after retirement, until the office she worked in closed. She and Roy, who are too young for Medicare, are currently without retirement health plans.
Both exercise frequently, and neither is on any kind of medication. They have worked hard and lived frugally—as Jean says, “done all the right things.” Yet retiring without employer-provided insurance left them with few choices. Jean is on a private plan that is beyond her budget. She has no vision or dental coverage and has a $5,500 deductible, which she doesn’t reach, so she pays for her care out of pocket. Roy had hip-replacement surgery several years ago—considered a preexisting condition—which has made it impossible for him to get coverage. Instead he relies on limited veteran’s benefits, and has seen a doctor for only a couple of annual physicals and minor issues.
Their experience has made the couple enthusiastic supporters of the Affordable Care Act. Roy will be 65—eligible for Medicare—this December, a date they’ve been counting down to and planning life events around for some time. Jean, a year younger, cannot wait to shop for a more affordable insurance plan on Ohio’s exchange in October. Without the ACA, “we would have no options besides what we have now, other than go back to work in a job with insurance. But finding a job at 63 and 64 at a company that would provide insurance? I don’t know how easy that would be.”
Jean is bothered by the perception that people who don’t have insurance are unemployed, don’t have money, or don’t want to pay. “There are a lot of people with very valid reasons for needing different approaches to insurance than what we have now.” She doesn’t mind paying more for insurance at her age, either, but the problem until now has been limited options.
Jean volunteers with ACA outreach efforts to help others learn about their insurance opportunities under the law, and she says the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “A lot of people in my community are passionate about this,” she says. “We’ve all got a story.”