Can You Really Get Off the Grid?

My husband and I are off the grid. We no longer own our home, and we are currently living in other people's houses. I am staying with a friend in Florida at her lovely home with a pool, one block from the ocean. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to vicariously live in a house I could never afford. My husband is finishing up work in New Hampshire and will be joining me in April. He is house-sitting for a woman who has moved out of state but is still trying to sell her home across the river from the house we lived in for 22 years. He has a small apartment in the barn where he got to enjoy Winter Storm Nemo. I was writing at my desk with a view of the pool that day. I do realize I have gotten the better deal in the early days of our "homelessness" -- better weather and better accommodations. Like an entitled teenager, I have convinced myself I deserve this. I just haven't told him that.

We are both enjoying the fact that we are not paying a mortgage, real estate taxes and utility bills, especially the huge hit of home heating oil during the long NH winters to the tune of $550 a month. We were always struggling to make ends meet and honestly, who has an extra $550 a month without having to pull out those credit cards for the payment due upon receipt demands of the oil delivery companies? It has to be paid, one way or another. Otherwise, the pipes could freeze.

Another friend of mine read my first blog at The Huffington Post then called me to ask, "Are you really off the grid? Wouldn't you have to move to a cabin in the woods of Montana with no electricity, phone service or running water to be truly off the grid? And besides, now you have to pay for health insurance."

Good point. I left my job in a cubicle to pursue my dream of being a writer and in doing that, I lost my health insurance. I am eligible for COBRA for the next eighteen months at a cost of $1,300 a month. Ouch! I am shopping around for a better deal but I am finding most self-insured plans are $800 a month with a $5,000 deductible for the first three people covered. I am trying to figure out how this is a better deal. I suppose we could roll the dice and hope nothing happens to any of us, but we're 55 and have our two daughters on the plan, daughters who ski and bike and sometimes drive in cars in the snowy mountains of Colorado over passes that require you have chains on your tires. I mentioned in my previous blog that I have a tolerance for risk, but I'm not sure I want to bankrupt myself in the case of a family accident or some similar misfortune. It would be just my luck if the accident happens in late December; we'd quickly reach the $5,000 deductible when January would roll around and we'd be subject to another deductible.

It's not easy to get off the grid in America. In some ways, it's a difficult country to live in. My friend was concerned about health care because her husband lost his job after 32 years of working for the same company. The manufacturing plant was moving to Mexico. He was lucky enough to get a job with a start-up company, but after he worked there for six months, they filed for bankruptcy. The company had six employees, so they are not required to offer COBRA. I left my job knowing I would lose my corporate-backed health insurance. My friend's husband lost his insurance because he lost his job. That's happened to me too, but this time, I chose to go out on my own. Either way, that's the way it works here in America.

I was reminded of a bus trip my younger daughter and I took to the Grand Canyon a few years ago. Across the aisle from us were two couples from England and sitting in front of us was a couple from Canada. They were all in their mid-fifties and shortly after we left Las Vegas, they struck up a quick friendship, as travelers often do. "We've been to England. Where do you live?" "Oh, we love Montreal." "Where else have you been in the States?" "How do you handle the insurance problem when you travel here? One little accident or an illness that sends you to hospital and you could be paying those bills far into the unforeseeable future."

Yes, indeed. Good question. How do you handle the insurance problem? They all agreed that they took out inexpensive traveler's insurance when visiting the United States. "I wouldn't step foot in this country without it," one of the women said. "A friend of mine had to pay $300 for a CAT scan that cost $35 back home."

I eavesdropped on these lucky recipients of single payer, nationalized healthcare and was envious. This was back when I worked in my cubicle to provide my family with insurance. I imagined some of them ran their own little businesses back in Montreal or Haywards Heath with 'nary' a thought of what to do about the insurance problem.

My friend and I discussed this dilemma for quite some time and we both agreed we are waiting to see how Obamacare will work out for us. We are both supporters of the president and are grateful he fought this battle and won. But I would have been happier with universal healthcare. We both have many, many questions. First and foremost, what is the definition of affordable? Is $800 a month for a family of four making $65,000 a year considered affordable?

We know, for now, there's the option of not having any insurance. Just walk into an emergency room and they have to take you, right? I used to think that was true but this morning, I read "The Bitter Pill", the story of Sean and Stephanie Recchi in this week's issue of Time. Sean was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and the hospital was requiring $48,900 in advance. Who has this kind of money on demand? I was making $45,000 a year working full-time, and that is not take-home pay! So, we will make the COBRA payments, we are doing the responsible thing. We are paying for insurance. Come January, everyone will be required to have insurance or pay a penalty. I understand the reason for this. Everyone needs to participate. But the question remains: Whose definition of affordable will we be using?