ESSAY: Obamacare saved this writer money, but cost him one potentially important right

By Cody Drabble

“Obamacare” naysayers may demonize every dotted “i” and crossed “t” in the Affordable Care Act, but not me.

When I aged out of my parents’ health-insurance plan two years ago, I flirted with feelings of invincibility. (Insurance is for old people, right?) But Dad and Mom, a paramedic and a nurse, respectively, insisted that young people need health care, too, so I reluctantly paid north of $150 a month for an individual policy.


The following summer, I experienced an acute case of delayed parental gratitude-itis when mononucleosis sent me to the hospital for five days. My $25,000 bill—for a few tests, ice packs and strawberry Jell-O—was mostly covered by insurance.

Last month, my insurer canceled my current policy. When I called Covered California—after not getting through the heavily trafficked website—the operator talked me through my options. Since freelance journalists don’t earn a king’s ransom, I’m eligible for subsidies. Starting next month, I’ll have much better coverage—lower deductibles, lower copays, cheaper prescriptions—for about $60 per month.

“Obamacare” is going to save me more than $1,000 a year and provide better coverage than my expiring policy.

But there’s a catch: The new plan includes a mandatory arbitration clause. Arbitration clauses, a jumble of legalese buried in the fine print of most consumer contracts, are a favorite cost-saver for big businesses. Though Covered California’s subsidies will save me and other low-income families a lot on health-insurance premiums, I’m also giving up my Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.

Why is that a big deal?

Because arbitration clauses force consumers to bring malpractice claims before private judges who take repeat business from hospitals and insurance companies. Additionally, your attorney has limited options in discovering evidence, and the results are kept from public view, so future victims will never be able to hold repeat offenders accountable. Victims of medical malpractice, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, also lose their right to appeal arbitration decisions.

Worse yet, arbitrators are more likely to award less money (or none at all) than trial judges for a preventable medical injury.

I’m grateful to pay less for better health insurance, but I might change my tune if I get stuck in a Kafkaesque arbitration hearing.

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