There are many ways for health insurers to sock it to health care consumers these days. They knocked Murray Axelrod around because of his address. Because of where he hangs his hat - or hung it - Murray's health care costs have shot into the stratosphere.
Murray, 64, is a retired grocery clerk. His union, Local 770 of the Retail Clerks, took care of his coverage originally, and he had no complaints. His provider since he was 20 years old has been Kaiser. He has been a conversion plan member for 34 years.
Over the past few years he noticed his premiums increasing, generally $20 to $30 in each go-round. In December of 2002 he was paying $237.
On Christmas Eve, Kaiser dumped a large lump of coal in Murray's stocking: They told him that he would be paying $421 a month, beginning in January.
Murray was flabbergasted. He contacted Kaiser and asked them why they were treating a man who had been with them for nearly half a century so badly. They told him it was because he had a zip code in western Ventura County, which Kaiser had declared an "expansion zone." People in expansion zones were going to pay more, Kaiser had decreed.
Murray explained that he lived in Moorpark, which is in eastern Ventura County. So Kaiser made an adjustment: no, not in Murray's premium; in everyone else's. The health care provider declared all of Ventura County an expansion area and everyone's rates shot up.
Well, Murray thought, I could go to another insurer. But Murray had a heart attack 10 years ago, which means he has a pre-existing condition. Most plans would either reject him or make him pay exorbitant prices.
Murray did the math. His premiums, which were $2,844 annually in 2002, were about to go to $5,052 - an increase of $2,208.
There was another way out, and he took it: He moved to Los Angeles County. He had been using the Woodland Hills Kaiser facility anyway, so it made sense, at least in terms of affording health coverage. His rates still jumped by $984 a year, which was not good, but was better than the $2,208 he was facing in Ventura County.
But this begs the question: should a man have to move in order to receive the health care he needs?
Murray believes the answer is no.
"It's bull....!" Murray fumes. "It's corporate greed. They've become more of a business and less patient-oriented."
The increased costs and the uncertainty create especially heavy anxiety for people in his age bracket, Murray notes. "It's created a nightmare. I'm on a fixed income, and along with large losses in my retirement IRA I am deeply worried about my future." He says people in his situation seemingly are being forced to choose between moving from Ventura County or giving up their health coverage.
"How can Kaiser get away with such practices?" Murray asks. He would like to see health care providers come under regulation, to prevent this kind of callous and greedy behavior. Beyond that he would "like to see them start having a humanitarian aspect" in their treatment of their patients, and in particular take a look at the longevity of patients with the company before throwing them to the wolves.