Insurance: Not offered or not affordable

Tamara Keith Sep 15, 2009

Insurance: Not offered or not affordable

Tamara Keith Sep 15, 2009


Steve Chiotakis: Starting today — and for the rest of the week — we’ll be looking at
what different groups have at stake in the health care debate. Doctors, small business, hospitals. It’s part of the series, “The Cure,” our continuing coverage on the remaking of health care in America. We begin with a look at the uninsured. More than 46 million people in this country cannot qualify for coverage, or can afford it, or both.
These patients often end up in emergency rooms, one of the most expensive ways to get treated — or go without medical attention. Marketplace’s Tamara Keith reports.

Tamara Keith: Frank Brown runs his own environmental consulting firm. Last year, business was so bad he would have been better off in a minimum wage job. Then in January, his health insurance premiums jumped from $425 to more than $600 a month.

Frank Brown: Once it gets to $608 a month and you’re down to beans and rice for dinner, you have to make some choices.

He went to the doctor for one last check up.

Brown: And then I walked out I said, well that’s it, I’m going to have to be on my own for a while.

Like Brown, most people who don’t have insurance do work — or they’re in a family with someone who does.

Diane Rowland is executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured:

Diane Rowland: When we ask people why they’re uninsured, the overwhelming number is that it’s either that I’m not offered it through my employer or I can’t afford it.

Rowland says the various health care bills take aim at the affordability problem.

Rowland: The largest share of the cost of health reform is to make coverage affordable for the low income and modest income population that’s uninsured.

According to a Kaiser analysis, Medicaid could be expanded to cover 17 million of the lowest income adults. And another 16 million people could get government subsidies to help pay for coverage.

June Turner is more interested in the provision that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Eight years ago, Turner had a heart attack.

June Turner: The brokers tell me that even if the company would insure me that the rates would be just astronomical.

Turner says she gets chest pain sometimes, but she doesn’t go to the doctor because it’s too expensive.

Turner: It feels like walking on a tight wire.

Like so many people, she’s balancing her health with the fear of financial ruin.

In Washington, I’m Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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