Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Many face hard times, no health insurance

In 2007-'08, 1 in 3 lacked coverage for some period By Clay Carey • THE TENNESSEAN • April 1, 2009 When Laura Adams left her job, and her health insurance, to start a business with her husband five and a half years ago, she was healthy. She had no idea a crisis was on the horizon. Months later, Adams found herself facing cancer and mounting health-care debt. Her husband has insurance through a private company, but she doesn't. "It's been horrible," said Adams, 45. "Because of the history of cancer, I either can't get (insurance) or can't afford it." She isn't alone. During 2007 and 2008, almost one out of every three Tennesseans under the age of 65 went without health insurance for some period of time — a few days, a few weeks or even longer, according to a national health advocacy group. "The huge number of people without health-care coverage in Tennessee is worse than an epidemic. … That's why meaningful health-care reform can no longer be kept on the back burner," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. The organization released the numbers Tuesday as part of a push for national health-care reform. Of the 1.7 million Tennesseans who were uninsured for a time over that two-year period, the organization said, three-quarters of them went without coverage for at least three months. Roughly the same number were members of working families. With the state's current unemployment more than 9 percent, the number of uninsured Tennesseans may be even higher, said Susan McKay, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, a nonprofit that pushes for health-care reform in the state. "Most people don't choose not to have health-care coverage," McKay said. Instead, they become uninsured when they lose their jobs or when employers reduce benefits. Numbers match national figures Tennessee's numbers were in line with national figures that Families USA compiled. Across the country, 33.1 percent of those under 65 went without insurance for a while during 2007 and 2008. Families USA is pushing for federal reform that would make health care available to more people. One bill up for discussion this year would guarantee health-care coverage for all Americans, giving them access to health benefits equal to those members of Congress receive. It would pay for itself, sponsors say, through the elimination of business tax write-offs for health plans. The bill has been criticized for attaching so many strings to the health-care system that it will reduce choices and increase insurance costs for Americans. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy research group, has praised the spirit of the bill but claims it gives the government too much of a role in regulating insurance plans.

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