In general, I know that health care is expensive, but I don’t usually think about what that means for my family. That changed this week with the annual open enrollment period for my health insurance plan.
The nation spent $2.7 trillion on health care in 2011. That was almost 18 percent of gross domestic product, or nearly one out of every five dollars exchanged in the economy. Despite the size of health care spending, those costs are largely invisible to me in my daily life. I’m much more aware of the cost of gas (hard to miss the $4/gallon signs), how much I spend on groceries each week, and the cost of child care. I’m better acquainted with how the federal budget stalemate will affect my life—my son’s school faces more budget cuts and parents will need to volunteer more hours to fill the gaps—than with how our nation’s exorbitant health care costs affect me.
Or that was the case until I received a reminder this week that it is time to re-enroll in my employer’s health insurance plan. The cost of medical coverage for my family—two adults and a preschooler, all healthy—is more than $1,300 per month, up 8 percent from last year. That’s more than we spend on our mortgage. That’s more than we spend on quality, full-time child care. It is the single largest expense for my family, each and every month.
Fortunately, my employer covers part of this cost and thus I’m not attempting to cover the entire expense out of my monthly paycheck. But money is fungible, and if my employer didn’t have to pay so much for my health care, my annual salary might be larger. Or, if health care costs didn’t consume such a big share of our household income, I could choose to work fewer hours and spend more time with my son. That’s what the high cost of health care means for my family.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her husband and son.