Mar

28

 I married into a family with extensive employment ties to AT&T. My mother-in-law, one brother-in-law, one of my wife's uncles as well as another aunt all made careers at ATT. The only thing they admired more than the payroll deduction stock- buying program was the medical coverage. I'm familiar with a number of companies that offer very comprehensive programs, but none compare with what Bell offered. Not only was coverage complete, but remained so into retirement; the employee costs were so minimal as to be non- existent.

It's a wonderful story so far. Nothing really changed when the government and the courts came along and created the Baby Bells. However, their medical coverage created what I have long termed the "Bell Babies." My wife and the children of other long-time Bell employees are among them. But first a little background:

My mother-in-law retired at 62 and passed away at 84– I cannot even estimate the number of (free) office visits she paid to various doctors in that 22 year period. I do know, though, that many of those visits were largely unnecessary. She easily averaged at least two office visits a month during all that time; and when she was seriously discomforted (as when she threw out her back) two visits a week were common– despite the doctor's advice that the visits really weren't necessary, that the healing period would take awhile. Her example, as well as that of her sister and her son (her brother was admirably averse to visiting the doctor even for free), created the Bell Babies. As infants, children, and teens those who had a parent covered by Bell became accustomed to seeing the doctor over the most trivial of aches and pains. This was fine while Mom's policy covered them. However, once they married (to someone not covered by the ATT policy), costs, sometime high ones, became involved. Despite the costs, old habits are hard to break– especially if the services provided have become to viewed as entitlements.

The coverage offered by my employer, although not as generous as ATT's) certainly was very good. When I retired and retained the policy (slightly modified), my monthly cost was a very affordable $347 a month. Seven years later when I qualified for Medicare it was $1200 a month with many modifications and co-pays. During that period many of us discovered just how expensive medical care really was.

But there were many, my spouse among them, whose initial reaction to any ache or pain was to make a doctor's appointment. Ironically, the "generous" coverage that our employers obtained for us (and which our current chief executive thinks is too expensive), has created a class of Medical Care Junkies– many of whom, including my wife, have learned (expensively) that doctoral abstinence is a good thing.

With that in mind, I believe that the newly dictated medical programs may well discourage a number of us from making frivolous office visits. However, it may also create a whole new class of customers who previously were, or feel they were, under-protected. And their numbers and impact could well be substantial.

If I've learned anything from these experiences it is that while I may find it difficult to pay medical costs under this new legislation, I can still afford dental and eye care. Under the various policies we've had, coverage for those specialties was very limited and very low. Practitioners in those fields had to deal with real people with real incomes, factor in real costs and price appropriately. I believe they've done a remarkable job. Where insurance didn't apply (or applied only marginally), costs remained bearable. But blanket medical coverage has proven to be poor economic policy– and it gets worse as government "helps."


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