Public option must be affordable

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Lee Barnes
For people who have fallen through the country’s social services safety nets, government-subsidized insurance will only work if it’s truly affordable.
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled Saturday to vote on President Obama’s health overhaul initiative. Among the reforms is a provision providing government subsidies to millions of Americans who now have no insurance.
Beginning in 2013, self-employed people and small businesses could buy coverage through new insurance exchanges, either from a private insurer or a new competing government plan, the oft-mentioned “public option.”
Almost all people would be required to purchase insurance or pay a fine, and employers would be required to insure their workers.
Under the initiative, insurance companies would not be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions or charge significantly higher rates to older people.
Thursday, people visiting the Good Shepherd Clinic were skeptical that any public option would help them.
“It would be just like a water bill,” said Phyllis Worth, 40. “Just another big bill to have to pay each month.”
Worth was at the free clinic with her mother, 60-year-old Margaret Avery Worth, who is recovering from a heart attack. The elder Worth doesn’t qualify for Medicare until she’s 65.
Phyllis Worth envisions a program in which she would have to pay “$40, $50, even $60 a month.” And, she said, even at those rates, she would struggle from month to month to come up with the money.
Currently, private insurance for people who are underemployed or self-employed runs into the hundreds of dollars in monthly premiums.
Patricia Corpening, 64, is retired and purchased coverage from Blue Cross for a while. She was forced to drop the coverage, she said, because “I couldn’t afford it.” She’s also in the no-coverage zone before her 65th birthday, when she can apply for Medicare.
“There’s no need to buy insurance if you can’t pay for it from month to month,” she said.