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Middle-Class Americans Face Biggest Strain Under Rising Obamacare Costs

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I think most people hate to think of themselves as middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You have what you need but maybe not everything you want.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We have a car, but we live in an apartment. That's middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you add a boat, then you're not middle class anymore. That's what changes it right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The middle class are families who are earning six figures.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Thirty thousand, $35,000 probably.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: That means me (laughter). And that means I'm in trouble (laughter).


It's time now for our series Hanging On, where we look at some of the economic pressures of American life. Open enrollment for insurance under Obamacare began this past week. That's after the administration announced that the cost of health care under the Affordable Care Act is expected to rise an average of 22 percent in 2017. Most people won't actually pay that much more since federal subsidies will also go up. But those who don't qualify for those subsidies could see a huge increase in their monthly insurance premiums.

Lindsay Travnicek is one of those people. She's a self-employed dietitian, and she lives in Arizona. She joins us on the line now.

Lindsay, thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: So tell me about the health insurance that you have now. What are your premiums, and what does it cover?

TRAVNICEK: So this year, I was insured through United Health Care over the exchange. And my plan was $255 a month. And I had a $2,000 deductible. So this year - my most recent research on the healthcare.gov - the lowest priced plan that I can get is $430. And the deductible is $4,200 now. And so that is the same plan that I had last year. So the deductible, it went up, you know, $2,200. And the monthly premium went up, you know, a little - you know, $210 or so.

MARTIN: So what does that mean to you? I mean, first of all - let me just ask - are you going to get a subsidy? We hear that subsidies are going to help people who are stretching to make this kind of payment.

TRAVNICEK: Yeah, I do not qualify for a subsidy. And also - I should also say I am a very healthy person. I have no chronic diseases. I take, you know, very good care of myself. And I don't - you know, I feel that, you know - for me to pay for $430, which is a sizable chunk of disposable income, you know, for basically, sort of, just insuring that something doesn't go wrong, I mean, that is - I guess I'm at a point now where that is a risk that I am willing to take.

I voted for Obama. And I voted for what I hoped would be a change in, you know, these insurance companies, you know, taking advantage of people and refusing to pay for care that people needed. And we are just getting - I feel like I'm getting the short end of the stick. You know, I've paid into the system a long time as a healthy person. And I just am choosing not to pay in any more.

MARTIN: So you're not going to renew your health insurance for next year?

TRAVNICEK: No, I'm not.

MARTIN: Does that scare you a little bit to think about not having health care?

TRAVNICEK: Oh, my God, it's terrifying. I come from a family of doctors and people in the medical field. And to us, you know, to go without health care is just - again, it is very risky. But I mean, this is just - I feel like, maybe I could just pay out of pocket and probably still come out ahead, even after paying the penalty for not having any coverage.

MARTIN: The presidential election is Tuesday. Arizona, where you live, is in play in a way it hasn't been in the past. It's a battleground state. Is this something you and your friends and family are talking about as a deciding factor when it comes to who you're going to vote for?

TRAVNICEK: I have been in many discussions with my family, like I said, who's in the health care field. And I'm really disappointed that neither candidate really touched on this topic in a more broad, deep way during the debates. They didn't come up with solutions, what they would do. It was, you know, it was just, sort of, general talk about, we understand it's not affordable. We need to change it. We need to fix it.

And so, you know, I voted for Hillary. And I don't rescind that. But it is very - it's very disheartening to me that neither candidate really touched on this in a - you know, a very tangible way as to what their solution was going to be.

MARTIN: Lindsay Travnicek on the line from Tempe, Ariz. We've been talking about the Affordable Care Act.

Lindsay, thank you so much.

TRAVNICEK: You're very welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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