How Obamacare Affects Retirees: Jean Wentzel

Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Sept. 26, 2013, 4:15 p.m.

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.”

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