The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

June 29, 2012

Woman not sure health care can be ‘affordable’

Frets cost of individual mandate

BROOKFIELD — “Well, when the time comes, I guess they can just haul me off to jail or whatever they’re going to do to me,” Heather Tinley said in reacting to news the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which includes a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or face a penalty.

For many people like her, paying the fine – which starts at $95 a year or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, and is eventually capped at $695 or 2.5 percent of income – will likely be cheaper than buying insurance.

Tinley, a Masury resident who works 38 hours a week, said she cannot afford insurance and a recent medical problem has “literally wrecked me.” She said she is about $20,000 in debt for medical bills to two different hospitals.

The 38-year-old said she had medical coverage when she worked for Sharon Tube Co. She now works for a smoke shop in Brookfield Center, earning about $300 a week before taxes.

“I understand people have to have health care. I get that. But I live paycheck to paycheck. I don’t have an extra $100 a month to buy insurance. Where do I come up with it? Shut off my water? My electric?”

A diabetic, she has monthly expenses for medication and testing supplies that she says are crucial to her survival. “I get my medicine through a program at Giant Eagle that provides it free to me. I have a friend who buys my test strips for me which are about $70 a month,” she said.

Tinley said if the government can provide health insurance that is affordable, she would buy it.

“But I’m talking like 70 or 75 bucks a month. I might be able to scrape that together or I could work a second job to pay for it, but it has to be affordable. There is no way right now I can afford to buy it.”

The Affordable Care Act does include subsidies to help people like Tinley who can’t afford coverage. It also creates insurance markets to make it easier to buy coverage and requires insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Tinley said she was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision which she said punishes people who “have no money.”

“I don’t know what the answer is, especially for people like me. There are no big jobs around anymore that I could get that would get me health insurance,” she said.

Tinley said she has tried to get state assistance for medical coverage but said she has been repeatedly told she makes too much money.

“So I can’t go to the hospital. I mean, I can, but financially I can’t afford to. It’s hard,” she said.

The part of the law struck down by the court was a Medicaid funding plan that would have forced states to expand the number of people who qualify for the program that provides health care coverage for the poor.

On the other side of the coin are those who have “Cadillac” insurance plans and may be taxed on those plans.

Brookfield schools superintendent Timothy Saxton said he’s been on both sides and understands.

“I think essentially this is penalizing someone who is already being penalized. How can you tax someone who is unable to pay?” he said.

Saxton said there have been times when he relied on good fortune, rather than health insurance. Laid off from his job with unemployment benefits exhausted he said he knows “what’s it’s like not have it.”

“It’s a burden on folks not having some ability to see a physician or go to the emergency room if something happens ...,” he said.

Tinley says customers at the smoke shop have been talking about health care issues for months.

“I turn a deaf ear to it, honestly, because people have their mind made up,” she said. “But most of those who are against it are veterans who have veterans assistance or they are young and don’t get the big deal about insurance because they don’t have health problems,” she said.

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