“Let us talk about private health insurance”
Last Saturday I witnessed an animated group of German twenty-somethings talk about privatkrankenversicherung, a conversation that deeply amused and frustrated me. Years ago I met a Indian journalist who said he would be opposed to be insured, because he saw that as a violation of his body's natural right to be sick and removing the element of drama from having a sickness. It was a radical approach towards possessing an insurance, one that can be termed reckless or even stupid. But in India it is not mandatory to be insured and considering the low healthcare costs such a gamble with healthcare can be flirted with.
The case is different in Germany where everyone is supposed to be insured with a choice between public and private insurers. Private insurance is more expensive and out of reach of the average German and public insurance is good until economic sophistication invokes its presence. Economic sophistication (or creep) is a problem we all face with when our spending hits a particular threshold and the boredom associated with those choices becomes apparent. A person spending 85€ on a monthly train ticket would prefer to budget for a car EMI, because that signals sophistication to whichever class he's a member of. Insurance seems like that unchanging monthly expense but to make it more sexy, one has to add more frills and more expense which a private insurance does very well.
The interesting thing in the group dynamic in these twenty-somethings is that they are all being weaned off the parental support, the Kindergeld, which is a monthly allowance until the age of 25 including the expenses of the insurance. The 25th birthday is emblematic of this dependence, the age where the child finally becomes the adult and the relative opulence of the early twenties give way to economic realism.
This economic realism is what I would say is the gateway to the middle-class they wish to embody. Dreams become enshrouded in jobs and the paycheck becomes the final master. The desire for stability in a society geared around stability means that everyone gets a degree and then they work where the degree permits them to be. In comes the conversation about privatkrankenversicherung, whether it should be allowed the by the State or not and if so, where can the free market insurance firms can operate?
The amusing part is that none of the people at that gathering would've been eligible for having private health insurance, considering that no-one was self-employed or making over 62,550€. The whole conversation itself was about coming-of-age, where one finally has the adult conversations that could not have been had before. I find this equating with the idea of powerlessness we embody, but the conversation becomes about the numbers and signaling. This is sad to witness because the apparent power that the people around me were programmed to possess was being impeded by the highly structured society they lived in. Coupled with the necessity to belong, they would soon be induced into the pleasures of rearing a family and keeping up with appearances. This talk about privatkrankenversicherung will not be their last, the more mundane aspects of middle-age will take over, talking about kindergartens and kitchen tops.
During this conversation, the raw power of the Indian journalist along with the freedom he had became more apparent. He would not fit into any mold in the regular society and when he's sick, the disease will not discriminate him at all. He would find a way to live or die but his rejection of insurance was also his rejection of this middle-class stability to life. The cookie cutter nature to existing, the drab monotony of work and living, the search for a meaning between the monthly payments of insurance and phone bills. I wonder how boring it would get over in time at these parties. An entire generation replacing the one before without having anything new to offer. Maybe this is a limitation of existence itself, to succumb to little packets of life and not think of anything grander.