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Miles Hoskins: Why Americans are angry at the wrong thing

by Daniel Lowry

Miles Hoskins sorted through the dusty boxes of old papers and photographs. There were stacks of cancelled checks, some going all the way back to the 1880s. The people who had owned the old, run-down house had been hoarders, it seemed. A friend had bought the estate at auction, and thought Miles might be interested in some of the contents. There might be a piece of treasure in the heap. 

Miles was interested. He has a big, gray mustache and a deep, soft voice. He’s in his sixties, tall and thin, and his tan cowboy hat and kind eyes would make him a perfect fit for a good guy in a Western movie. He’s genuine, though, and if you talk with him for a few minutes, you begin to realize he is an honest man who cares about people.

He loves history, and is the president of the Montgomery County Historical Society. Miles runs the local museum on a volunteer basis. The museum contains some fascinating pieces, some of which go back more than a thousand years.

There are ancient, intricate arrowheads. There are artifacts from the Adena people, which lived in Kentucky between 2,500 and 1,800 years ago. They built mysterious burial mounds which have been the focus of archeologists for a couple of centuries. There’s a pot from Menifee County that dates back to about the year 1400. There’s a leather bucket from 1822 that people passed from hand to hand in long lines to fight fires. There are Civil War era weapons, uniforms and even a saddle owned by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan.

Back in the musty house, Miles thumbed through the piles of items, hoping to find something special. “Strange things have a way of finding me,” he says. “Freaky stuff.” He once bought an old newspaper from May 6, 1853. Later, he discovered that right on the front was a mention of one of his ancestors. The paper now hangs in the Mount Sterling History Museum.

Miles retired in 2016. For 28 years he was in the health insurance business. He was born in Mt. Sterling and sold health insurance to friends, neighbors and community members. He knows the business. “It’s a big numbers game,” he says. “They’ve got to have x number of well people to cover x number of those who aren’t so well, and another x number who are dying.”

Miles says health care insurance has always been about money. “It’s hard to take money out of it,” he says. “The insurance companies are in this for a profit.”

A quick Google search reveals the staggering amounts of compensation that insurance company CEOs make. Cigna, Aetna, UnitedHealth, Anthem and Humana CEOs are all above $10 million a year. The companies are doing well, too. UnitedHealth Group, the biggest health insurer in the U.S., reported a revenue in 2016 of $46.3 billion, up from $41.5 billion the year before.

Miles says these companies are making money on the sickness and misery of others. He reached a point when he stopped selling individual insurance.

“It was a mess before the Affordable Care Act,” he says. “It was real sad. These were mostly small business owners and self-employed.” They were his friends and people he saw around town. “Some were people who were working paycheck to paycheck for another small business owner who couldn’t afford to have a group plan for his employees.”

Before the ACA, people could roll the dice with their health. They didn’t have to have insurance. “Many people took the chance,” says Miles. “I was young once, too, and I thought I was six-foot tall and bullet-proof. When I was young, I didn’t buy health insurance.”

Miles points out that millions of people did that every day in this country until ACA. They prayed they didn’t get sick. If they did, it would bankrupt them or they simply would go without any treatment or medicine.

Miles says having only sick people with insurance made it extremely expensive. The system needs to have enough healthy people with coverage to balance out the pool for everyone.

“You can’t just coast along and you’re 45, and you’ve been young all your life, but you go to the doctor and suddenly there’s a problem. You can’t run out to an insurance company and say hey, guess what, I screwed you over all these years, and I didn’t want your old flunky insurance, but now I’ll take it because I’m about to spend $450,000 on medical expenses.”

He says there has to be an individual mandate. “It’s like driving a car without insurance and then calling to order it right after you crash. That’s not the way insurance is supposed to work.”

But one of the criticisms of ACA, or “Obamacare” is that premiums have gone up. Miles says most big insurance companies like UnitedHealth don’t even deal with ACA. They handle group plans from employers and are able to raise premiums. “It has nothing to do with ACA, and everything to do with profits and shareholders.”

UnitedHealth Group announced in 2016 that it expected to lose $650 million on ACA exchange plans that year because the health status of people who bought plans was “worse than expected.”  Sick people were getting insured through ACA. Nevertheless, UnitedHealth saw its revenue rise 25 percent and profits up 14 percent during that time.

Miles says people are angry about paying high premiums, but those people are on group plans or employer-provided plans that are not part of Obamacare at all. “The anger is misdirected at the ACA, when really it should be at the insurance companies,” he says. “Money rules everything in this world, we all know that, but I don’t think we should be making money off the pain and suffering of other people.”

And under Trump’s health care plan, Miles points out that 24 million people stand to lose coverage by 2026. “If they repeal, it’s back to the bad old days. Trump’s plan is worse than it was before ACA. We’ll go back to everyone being at the mercy of insurance companies.”

Miles’ eyes lit up when he caught sight of a folded, timeworn document in that dusty box from the old house. He carefully unfolded it, and arching over an American eagle were the words TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. The words jumped off the page, and he knew instantly he was holding an honorable discharge paper from the Civil War. Issued in 1863, the paper gave a soldier his freedom from the horrors of a bloody conflict that killed more than 620,000 Americans.

Then Miles realized something that made him tremble. This document had a special significance that made it even more valuable to him, personally. He was holding the discharge paper for Sgt. Elijah Harrison Smith for one year of service. Sgt. Smith, Miles knew, happened to be his great, great grandfather.

“He died just a few years after the Civil War,” says Miles. “Folks didn’t last very long after going through that mess.” Miles pauses for a moment. “Just like not having health insurance.”

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Click here to read more about the myths and truths on ACA from the Lexington Herald-Leader.