Precautionary Tale

I’ve decided to propose a name change for ‘insurance’ to ‘legalized gambling.’ After all, it’s time to call it what it is.

Recently, I was forced to shop for my own health insurance, as my all-inclusive union coverage was due to expire since I hadn’t worked enough qualifying hours to maintain my eligibility. Ah, the life of a freelancer.

I picked up the phone and rang Blue Cross, who’d been my provider on and off through the years. The friendly voice on the other end of the line guided me to their website, and then told me about a new subdivision of the company, Tonik, that would likely offer me cheaper options. I confess, I still don’t understand the difference between normal Blue Cross and Tonik, but Tonik’s website was amusing, offering plans named ‘Thrill-seeker,’ ‘Part-Time Daredevil,’ and ‘Calculated Risk-taker.’ Very colorful. Apparently, as with everything else, it’s all in the packaging. Roy, my chipper insurance broker, explained that Tonik is a division designed to reach out to twenty-somethings to encourage them to get insured. Well, I was way out of that range, but Roy assured me that I was a good candidate for their plans. I had no idea why, but he spoke with a ‘trust-me’ kind of pitch, so I decided to blaze forward.

The Tonik website guides you like an encouraging friend with headings such as “What’s the deal?” quickly followed by “Relax, this is not a test.” The background colors are vibrant, and I was convinced that if I’d had my browser’s audio turned on, I’d be listening to hip, alternative music. A key seductive tool that lay ahead was that once I purchased my policy, I’d get to choose the color of my insurance card. This was one company that understood its target audience.

I worked my way through some insurance basics, providing my personal details and selecting co-pay and deductible amounts.

“Do you want pregnancy coverage?” Roy inquired. I paused. The conversation suddenly felt very intimate.

For years I have claimed to be done with childbearing. I am quite happy with one son, a near-teen who’s achieved a high level of self-sufficiency. We enjoy many activities as pals now, and I no longer have to feign interest in games and toys that used to drain the life out of me. But was I ready to commit in an official way to never getting pregnant again? I mean, accidents happen, and after having one child, the thought of an abortion is a bit harder for me to accept.

“Well,” I started. “I’m really not planning on having more kids, but, you know, accidents happen.”

“Uh huh,” Roy replied, as I imagined him rolling his eyes to his adjacent coworker.

“On the other hand, I’m single, getting old, on the pill, and, well, also use condoms…” my voice trailed off. I knew I was really crossing the line in information sharing. “Bet you didn’t need to know all that,” I added with a laugh.

“The coverage’ll cost you an additional hundred dollars a month,” Roy informed me in a business-like voice.

“Wow. That’s quite a lot to pay for a highly unlikely pregnancy.” Silence from my pal, Roy. “I guess I’ll pass on the pregnancy plan.”

In that one statement I decided to forgo future biological children – at least during the first premium period – but I resent the fact that I was forced to make the choice in the context of selecting health insurance coverage. I mean, I’m not planning on getting pregnant, but I’m not planning on getting cancer either. Should I have to pick which illnesses I’ll pony up for?

Of course the pregnancy angle was one of several measures I had to consider during that phone call. If I opted for the thousand-dollar deductible and remained healthy all year, I’d score big, uh, except for the fact that I would have just paid out around $2400 for the privilege of staying healthy, and requiring nothing of my insurance company. I know, I should be grateful. Small price to pay for the security of knowing I’ll be well taken care of by my health insurance if I do get sick. (Yes, insert ‘wink’ here.)

All insurance plays on our fears and sense of responsibility by forcing us to anticipate possible disasters and weigh them against what we think we can afford in premiums. Talk about gambling. We don’t want someone to plunk down a twenty on a football game, but we’re fine with institutionalizing what is essentially a lose-lose system. You only win if disaster strikes and your insurance company charges to the rescue, justifying your outrageous outlay of cash over the past year, decade, or lifetime.


Simply put, the whole system is offensive. Luckily, I have a pretty turquoise and green health insurance card to ease my pain.

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