Richard Rowell, retired — Fremont, California

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Richard Rowell, who spent a lifetime with his nose to the grindstone, figured that as a guy got older he ought to be able to kick back a bit and enjoy the fruits of his labors, including the financial fruits. But Kaiser Permanente has reached into Rowell’s fiscal orchard and has been plucking some of Rowell’s harvest. Finally, this year, Rowell is saying, "enough is enough."

Since he retired two years ago, Kaiser has steadily boosted the premium that Rowell, 64, and his wife pay. It has gone from $360 a month to $648 and now, beginning in January 2004, the monthly premium is $955. That comes to $11,460 a year.

To make it worse, the Rowells are not receiving prescription drug benefits, and other coverage has declined.

It’s an infuriating series of increases for Rowell, who spent his life working hard and playing by the rules. Born in Lodi, he came to the Bay Area in 1960 and moved to Fremont in 1962. There he and his wife raised a family. Two of his children are grown; one died in an accident.

Rowell was a civil servant and also worked in the private sector in construction management. He never had much of a problem providing health care for himself and his family.

Then came the attacks on his wallet after he retired.

He notes that Kaiser has projected premium costs for people by age. "My current Kaiser booklet says that when I’m 65, it will be $2,536 a month. Needless to say, I can’t afford that."

He has asked Kaiser why it raised its rates so precipitously, but their explanations – rising cost of living, upgrading facilities – strike him as nothing more than a "song and dance."

Rowell say he is fairly certain that when he does turn 65 – he has a year to go – there is a Kaiser-Medicare plan that will bring his costs back down from the stratosphere. He and his wife can hold out until then.

Nevertheless, he is angered by such increases. He would not object to a state board that forced health care providers to justify their rate hikes.

Rowell, however, is prepared to go beyond that, into socialized medicine which, he says, works well in Canada. Reminded that the United States medical profession and media denigrate Canada’s system as being a "mess," Rowell says "if it’s a mess, it’s a well-kept secret up there."

He also thinks that Washington politicians, including the President, are beholden to the drug companies, and that has to change.

The bottom line today is that "the little guy doesn’t stand a chance," Rowell says. "We need to try something (different). The system we have isn’t working."

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