“Imagine if you purchased food like most Americans obtained healthcare. No, I really want you to try to envision it… ” Dr. Ryan Neuhofel writes over at fee.org. “Struggling? I am a family physician whose father worked in a grocery store, and I enjoy eating at Mexican restaurants immensely, so maybe I can help. An ‘Affordable’ Food Plan [creepy melodramatic music] You enter the grocery store parking lot at 4:15 pm, having taken off work early because this particular store closes at 5:00 pm. This FoodMart wasn’t your personal preference based on quality, service, amenities, or price. You choose it, like all of your previous food choices, because it was included in your new food management plan’s network. Thankfully, your new Green Cross Green Shield (GCGS) Bronze-Select food plan is a benefit provided by your new employer. There is some payroll deduction stuff that you don’t quite understand yet. Most of the plan’s $680 monthly premium is hidden from you and drastically reduces your wages. Still, you are happy that your food plan costs only (as far as you know) $123 per paycheck. Despite not being particularly pleased with any of your previous food plans, you always try to take full advantage of the tax-preferred option of buying groceries and eating out as the plan allows. After all, you and most Americans haven’t known a different way of eating in your lifetimes. … FoodMart’s entrance is not easy to find, but you finally make your way into the store. You are first greeted by a few women sitting behind a glass-enclosed desk. By greeted, I mean they ask you for your photo id and food plan card and hand you a clipboard with a stack of forms to complete. The lobby is crowded, but you manage to find a seat amid the sea of impatient shoppers. You have completed these types of forms dozens of times previously but dutifully do so again. (You still prefer 2 percent milk, don’t like more than four vegetables, and your peanut allergy is unchanged.) Forms completed, you check back in with the receptionist. After 20 minutes of waiting, she assigns you a cart, and you start to shop with your list in hand. Worried that you won’t be able to afford everything on your list, you cross off any special items and opt only for the basics. As you scurry up and down the aisles, you see there are no prices listed on anything, nor labels telling you what is a Bronze-Select item. You suspect the delicatessen with your favorite cheeses is off-limits because of the large ‘included with UnitedFood Platinum-Plus’ sign above it that has no mention of Green Cross Green Shield. Remembering that eggs are included as a ‘free’ GCGS wellness benefit, you get three dozen of those—even though you don’t really need any right now.” Dr. Ryan Neuhofel, “Imagine if We Paid for Food like We Do Healthcare,” fee.org.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded... More by Jeanne Pinder