update: my coworker won’t stop complaining about our health insurance and I feel horribly guilty

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker wouldn’t stop complaining about his health insurance and she felt guilty because she’d helped hire him? Here’s the update.

Well, first of all, everyone told me to stop feeling guilty, and I actually took that to heart. The next time teammate made a comment about how he wished he could go to the doctor when I was going, I frankly said to him that my going to the doctor doesn’t mean he can’t, and it’s really getting old that he complains every time I go. Additionally, the next time he was sick and complained that he couldn’t go to the doctor because it was too expensive, I reminded him that several others on our team and I had all sent him alternative options, and we’d all appreciate if he stopped complaining if he wasn’t going to look into those options. He actually stopped complaining! It was like we’d all just enabled it for too long, and once he realized it was annoying he stopped.

A few people wondered why my company offered any benefits since he was a contractor – we don’t, he was a contractor through his external company. We were the client, he was the service that his employer provided to us. He was not 1099, but he was a full-employee of the external contracting company. In his interview with us he asked me about healthcare coverage and I told him it’s available but he’d have to ask the reps at the company for more details if it progressed to an offer stage. Which he asked for but apparently never read.

Anyway, about a month after I sent you the email his wife unexpectedly got pregnant. So, he kicked it into high gear and started actually looking for jobs. He got a few job offers, and ended up taking one, and left towards the end of August. At this point he was VERY up front about reviewing insurance policies BEFORE he accepted any offers though, and I was proud of him for that – he did learn from his mistake.

I do know that his wife suffered a miscarriage in September before his new healthcare kicked in, he was not eligible until the beginning of his first full month of employment or something like that, so he was still on COBRA from his contracting company’s plan. I went and visited, we are friends and all and I kept up with the situation. She also ended up having to be hospitalized due to complications. I was quite sad for them, and sent flowers and have been praying for them non stop since then and have visited and brought food a few times.

So, while in the long term I think it’s a good solution for his family that he changed jobs, in the short term it’s a pretty sad story, and I think they racked up a lot of debt from her hospitalization just based on the fact that it happened before his new insurance kicked in. But the good news is he’ll have better insurance going forward.

I realize that a lot of the comments ended up focusing on our healthcare system in the US, but our state actually has a pretty affordable healthcare marketplace option that’s pretty comprehensive, for like $300 a month or something like that (I looked into all of this with him at one point). That’s actually pretty reasonable when you consider that it’s covering two people and it’s not just a high-deductible plan, but a comprehensive one with good co-pays. I realize that different people prioritize different things financially, so that was something I ended up having to just bite my tongue on. Being Healthy to me is more important than having a fancy car, nice vacations, or expensive gifts, but they are allowed to prioritize other things in their lives.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. Goreygal*

    Removed. Please give people the benefit of the doubt here and assume they know the details of their own situations best.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Alison, in case you’re interested in the feedback:

      I like that you just deleted these comments. I don’t know what they were, and that’s fine; in fact, that’s how I like it.

      You normally keep a very light hand in the comments section, and your own tone influences things so much to keep things civil. And of course, you step in and say something, which is valuable feedback for everyone to hear and see.

      But it has an OK effect on me to see you simply delete. It helps w/ the convos not derailing, and it’s OK to not see crabby comments.

      I also like that you gave positive feedback (“let’s treat people this way”)–it’s better than “you were rude and hectoring,” for example), but it also gives a bit of a clue as to why, so we can all avoid it.

      Just in case that helps you decide how to handle things in the future.

      This is one of the very few times I’ve seen you delete a comment for a “manners” reason (as opposed to, “put this in the work free-for-all”). I like that you’re generally light-handed, but this worked for me.

      1. TootsNYC*

        eh, and I wish I had an option to delete, bcs now I think *I* have derailed the convo from our OP and onto site mechanics, etc.
        Especially as the first comment.


      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thank you, I appreciate that! As I say below, I’m going to be more aggressive about doing this over the next few weeks because it’s important to me to reclaim the comment section from the direction it’s gone in lately, and I think only a temporarily more heavy-handed approach will do that. So you may see more of this, but hopefully not much more — hopefully things will get back on track quickly.

  2. beetrootqueen*

    sounds like the poor guy and his wife have been through a lot.
    whilst its good that he had stopped complaining and now got a new jobs its so sad that this tragedy befell his family before the new insurance. I hope they are ok and find a way through it all.

    1. Bonky*

      Hear hear. It’s a very tough time: I’m glad he and his family have the worry about insurance out of the way. From experience, I can say that when something like this happens it’s sometimes hard to get the day-to-day of family life back to normal for a long time: additional nagging worry is the last thing they need.

  3. Zip Silver*

    I wouldn’t say that a miscarriage is a happy event, but it’s good that the pregnancy spurred your friend on into a more stable position for his family, OP.

  4. Rebecca*

    OP, just in case you and your friend aren’t aware, hospitals will sometimes settle for a lower fee if the patient had no insurance or insurance that didn’t pay for some reason. If your friend has a statement from the hospital with the full amount owed, I’d recommend he call them try to negotiate a reduced rate.

    1. Sled dog mama*

      Also your friend should ask his religious organization, if he belongs to one, or see if his new employer has an assistance program. When my daughter died this past spring our church gave us $6k to go toward her medical bills, which, after an ER trip and 24 hours in PICU, where huge even with ok insurance.
      It sucks feeling like you need the help but the feeling of knowing that someone cares enough to help and that the debt is manageable is so much better.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh sled dog mama, I am so sorry. I’m relieved/heartened that your community was able to help support you by alleviating additional stressors when you’re already going through a difficult time.

    2. OP*

      I believe he is working with the hospital’s billing and so I’m sure he’s aware of that. They are on a payment plan for their remainder, I do know that.

    3. Moonsaults*

      This is often told to people with medical bills but in reality, it depends greatly on the hospital itself. It’s always good to try but everyone assumes a hospital will settle in the end, sure they may reduce it but they’ll want it in X amount of months and at sometimes a freakishly high rate.

      Knee jerk reaction right now because I had to have a minor surgery, tried to work with the hospital and had to drain my retirement savings so that I didn’t kill my credit rating because they ended up sending me to collections. I paid it before it hit my report, the moment I got the collections notice, I called my financial adviser. EVERY other department worked with me. Not the hospital.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Moonsaults, I’m so sorry. And I hear you on sneaky medical debt and hard-nosed hospitals. having to have surgery should not drain a person’s retirement account, and I’m truly sorry that you were put in this position. :(

      2. Sas*

        Things like this make you question almost everything. It’s good that you made the choices that you did, however it is not good that you had to. Resisting launching into a tirade. ——–

      3. Zombii*

        I had a similar issue. Went to the ER, had a bunch of tests run because “no one can force you to have Egregiously Expensive Test but you could die if this is Very Serious Condition, and Egregiously Expensive Test is the only way to diagnose it,” tests found nothing and they sent me home. Got a bill for thousands of dollars—I had been clear every step that I was unemployed and could not afford anything they were recommending, that’s when they busted out the “you could die” language and I got scared about maybe dying at 25 for no good reason.

        The ER worked with me and reduced the debt considerably, I was on a payment plan, everything was good. Until. I started getting collections calls because there was a lab and a doctor that billed separately from the ER and they turned me in one day past the due date because I had made a payment plan with the ER. (I should have realized there were separate bills, but I didn’t at the time.) The lab and the doctor were not open to payment arrangements. It sucked.

        Still worth calling someone to ask though.

  5. Elle the new Fed*

    Wow. How horribly sad for your friend OP.

    It’s good to see that the direct method of telling him did have an impact on your original issue. It’s a good reminder that being more straightforward can address the situation.

  6. Jessesgirl72*

    Good for you, OP, for saying something, and good for your friend that he actually stopped the behavior, when confronted.

    Some people, for whatever reason, just like to complain, and either believe they are unable to change whatever is going on (even in the face of people showing them there are ways to address it) or just unwilling. I’m glad that your friend finally got motivated to make a positive change, even if the pregnancy ended sadly. When they are physically and emotionally recovered, I hope they are able to have a child.

  7. Daffodil*

    I am super impressed that you can get low-deductible coverage for two people for $300/month in your state. Around here it’s more like $500/month for one person with a $3000+ deductible. If my husband and I weren’t getting most of it covered through work, we’d be paying more for health care than for rent, without actually going to the doctor at all. I don’t know what the fix is, but I do know this isn’t sustainable.

    1. SadPanda*

      Just thinking the same. For me alone it’s over $400 a month, which is a third of my income. And a deductible. I can’t afford this, which is why OP’s comment:

      “Being Healthy to me is more important than having a fancy car, nice vacations, or expensive gifts, but they are allowed to prioritize other things in their lives.”

      hit me so hard. Hey, who “needs” insulin, anyway, ha ha!? *sobs*

      But I guess this will be removed as “OP bashing.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not about insulin. In the original post, the OP explained that the coworker talked all the time about things he buys, like an expensive car and regular, expensive gifts for his wife.

        1. SadPanda*

          Yes, it is.

          It is about affordable health care and prescriptions.

          No, I didn’t go back and read the original post. The OP is judgmental, and we’re supposed to give her the benefit of the doubt. Why? We just believe the OP no matter what because she wrote in? No benefit of the doubt for the unable to respond “defendant” to the original post? I guess it’s your website, but vigorous debate and diverse views might be helpful.

          If you want a fiefdom of complicity, then shut down the comments, because you don’t want debate or diversity, just complicity and compliance — so why would any other comments than yours matter? Just post your chosen questions and your reply and nix everything else.

          My comment was relevant because OP chose to judge the defendant’s lifestyle and I wanted to let you and others know that the ACA exchange *may not* be as affordable as OP thought. It is *not* always affordable or helpful, but it is the best we have. But no one wants to hear that. Including you.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The rules of the site say that yes, we take letter-writers at their word. And yes, if you’re going to criticize someone, I’d expect that you’d read the original letter for context first to make sure you’re actually understanding the situation correctly.

            This isn’t about “a fiefdom of complicity.” It’s about returning the comment section to a pleasant place to be, which the majority of commenters want. I’m going to be much more aggressive than usual in moderating comments in the next few weeks in order to ensure that happens.

            There are plenty of diverse views here, and dissent is welcome. What is not welcome is unkindness, particularly toward letter-writers who have answered people’s plea for updates.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            SadPanda, you’re conjuring an issue that didn’t exist anywhere in the original post and comments, or in the update, so you can soapbox on it. It’s completely ok for Alison to say, “Sorry, this isn’t a post about affordable healthcare and prescription medication,” because, well, it isn’t. And defining the parameters of the debate isn’t about complicity—it’s about defining the parameters of a debate. It is completely rational and ok for a host to set forth the rules of engagement and to enforce them.

            But most importantly, Alison has allowed comments as a way for visitors to help the OP solve a problem. I don’t see how insulting someone or accusing them of doing something that they didn’t actually do moves someone towards solving a problem. It also diminishes the likelihood that they’ll write in again or provide an update, and it might dissuade other prospective advice seekers from writing in.

            What seems to have happened is that because you didn’t have the full context, you misinterpreted the update, which triggered something really close to your heart. But when it was pointed out that you were going afield, you doubled down. I want to gently encourage you to take a beat (and a few deep breaths)

      2. Marcela*

        Perhaps it’s my language barrier, but I understood the lines you quoted in a very different light. For several years I was so poor I could not afford insurance. And I was, in my country, under the very narrow exception that didn’t allow anybody to get me under their plans, unless they paid a fortune, more than they would normally paid for relatives. I didn’t have money for the dentist, so I lost a couple of teeth because I did not know how to take care of them, and could not go to the dentist to fix that and learn. And all those years I was suffering from my nasty endometriosis, which got me in ER under the plans for homeless people, just pain relief and out you go!

        So now, when I’m not in that situation anymore, being healthy means paying my insurance before anything else. I just can’t live without regular checks and medicine, unless you call live to be contorting on the floor because of the pain. But at the same time, I can see how someone without my particular experience, for example my brother, prefers to spend most of his money in gadgets. He didn’t have to live what I did, so there is no reason for him to behave like me. Do I judge him? No! I am very aware of the difference, but that’s all: we are different, and that’s good. My take on OP’s words is that she now fully realizes this difference. And the fact that she seems to think ACA to be affordable (which I don’t agree) doesn’t really matter anyway, for she is not paying anybody’s salaries or deciding the insurance plan/price.

        1. Rey*

          Thanks for this comment. It’s extremely well said!

          Health insurance has always seemed like a bit of a gamble to me. Some people prefer to bet they won’t get sick. Other people have to bet that they will. And, at the beginning, there’s usually no way to truly predict what the outcome will be at the end.

    2. LeRainDrop*

      Yup, my non-smoking mother pays slightly more for her monthly health insurance premium on a very high deductible plan through HealthCare.gov than she pays for her monthly apartment rent. Alas, the income she earns is just a small bit too high to get any subsidy on the insurance.

  8. A Reader*

    OP, you sound like a good friend, and I’m sure this couple appreciates your support. Here’s to hoping that there are brighter days ahead for them.

  9. Chickaletta*

    Insurance really is expensive, and I too found myself on a COBRA plan throughout my pregnancy. It was not cheap! I think I got on a financial plan through the hospital too, the slight humiliation of walking into the financial aid office as a grown adult who should have been better off (in my eyes at least – I had a college degree and all) was offset by the money I saved. I sympathize with your ex-coworker. But I also wouldn’t want to hear someone complain about it all the time. We all know how expensive health insurance is in the US and how complicated the plans are to understand, the last one we got was 80 pages long and contained sub-chapters.

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, it sounds like you did everything you could do to nip bad behavior in the bud, and I’m glad your coworker heard what you were saying and knocked it off. It also sounds like you’re offering support and compassion at a time when he and his wife really need it, and that’s all anyone can ask of a good friend.

  11. HardwoodFloors*

    OP was right to ask coworker to stop bringing up the complaint. However the problem was that coworker was a ‘temp.’ I took a temp job before ACA and was lied to that the company (temp company) offered health insurance when they didn’t. Later I bought ACA when the law went into effect but I paid 5 times more for my insurance than the ‘regular’ employees. This country is allowing ‘permatemps’ to be taken advantage of. Companies want the workers skills but won’t treat all employees equally.

    1. Jeanne*

      The whole contract employee system feels mean to me. Work hard for no benefits. I wonder what the next money saving idea will be and how it will affect workers.

  12. Tuxedo Cat*

    OP, being honest with him was the kindest thing. I haven’t experienced this kind of situation but I’ve experienced so many where friends (or even I) got so obsessed with things not going the way they envisioned that it was hard to see better alternatives like finding a new job. Those conversations don’t always turn out the way we’d hope, but I’m glad in your case, it did.

  13. Susan*

    I’ve been a contractor for a year and a half and my insurance is through the place that my contract is with not the actual place I work at too. The contract insurance sucks really bad so I empathize with your coworker (I’m actually going to take the fine this year because the insurance they’re offering is $250/month with a $6000 deductible and I don’t expect to meet the deductible). When you accept a contract position, you accept the conditions. For young people like me, I think contracting is a way to prove yourself because the hiring process is usually less stringent (because if they don’t like you, they can just wait x months for the contract to expire). I see it as a way of getting an “in” when full-time positions at the company open or leveraging the experience toward another job. For other people, contracting gives them the freedom to have a more flexible schedule to be with their family. The benefits are something you sacrifice for options like the above, but I guess it has to line up with where you are in your life.

    1. Jennifer Needs a Full-Time Thneed*

      > because if they don’t like you, they can just wait x months for the contract to expire

      This has not been my experience. There are very few actual employment contracts in the US. Those contracts are between the agency and their client, but when my work as a contractor has always worked like all other employment: I am an “at-will” employee and if the client wants to see me gone, the agency will tell me the job is done and I’m free to go.

    2. Jessi*

      Yep, it’s all about trade offs and choices. My husband is contracting now because it’s what he could get after many months of unemployment following a layoff. The health insurance his agency offered is terrible too. Thankfully, everyone is covered under my employer-sponsored plan so we didn’t have to sign him up for it. We probably would’ve thought differently about this contract if he didn’t have other coverage – as you say, accept the contract, accept the conditions.

  14. Milla*

    It’s always uncomfortable when people start over-sharing messy, dispiriting, and personal details at work, so I’m glad the LW was able to get the negative comments from this employee toned down by being direct.
    Sub-contracting companies are notorious for offering bad insurance and benefits. I remember working for one that had super cheap $70 a month insurance…that literally only covered the list of things legally required by law and nothing else. And, since you pretty much end up with whichever one first called you about the job, or which one the company you wind up positioned at prefers, there really isn’t a good way to find out about their insurance and shop around before you accept a position. They don’t hire you until a company hires you, and then you’re stuck.
    I’ve never heard of a company a sub-contractor is positioned at offering a temp their insurance, so I wonder if this was his first time as a sub-contractor and didn’t realize benefits would be through the sub-contracting company and to not expect anything much, or at all (based on how I thought it was weird in the original letter that the employee had asked the hiring manager about insurance and benefits, not his recruiter. The hiring manager wouldn’t know much about another company’s insurance).
    Also, companies have an insurance enrollment period (usually the anniversary month of starting), so even if he had had the money and inclination to switch to the higher level of insurance, he’d have had to wait a year until the window to do so.
    People can try and be careful by proactively applying only with sub-contracting companies with good reputations for providing some benefits, but even then, if they don’t have the job you want listed on their board, or if the place you work at daily decides to go with new, cheaper sub-contracting company, you will be traded to the new one against your will or find yourself without a job.
    Marketplace plans are a good secondary option, especially if you want to keep one insurance through several sub-contracts, but are very expensive if you don’t qualify for financial aid, which most people making full time money as sub-contractors don’t. I’m a 1099 now, not a sub-contractor, but what I pay for my bronze level marketplace plan with a $6500 deductible, 30% coinsurance, and $40 copays, is about what my brother pays for his absolutely amazing, $1200 deductible, $0 copay insurance for his family of 4. And he gets vision/dental. All of the marketplace rates are going up next year and soon I’ll be paying $70 more than he pays for his entire family, just for me.
    So, yeah, I totally understand why this guy was complaining, but agree it was annoying and unprofessional to bring up so often and so loudly to people who can’t do anything to help. Hopefully, he and his wife have better health in the future.

  15. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Y’all, most of these updates are the result of me asking letter-writers to take the time to update us. It’s a favor to us and to me, and it’s not cool to treat it as an opportunity to criticize (and I am especially confused that a letter like this one would be causing this issue). I’m closing the comments on this post now — and OP, I am very sorry about this.

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