For many unemployed workers in the United States, the scariest part of losing their job is losing their health insurance.
Even before the current economic crisis, 45 million Americans were uninsured. That number is expected to rise to 54 million by 2019 if changes aren't made to the system, according to the director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
AdvertisementOne of the swelling ranks, Amy Newlin, has been getting by on her savings and unemployment benefits after she and her husband lost their jobs last fall.
But while they can cut back on dinners out, new clothes or other inessentials, the costs of treating her diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid difficulties have risen dramatically.
"I need insulin strips to test my blood, and medicine for my high blood pressure," Newlin told AFP.
"My insulin is 80 dollars a bottle without insurance and the strips are expensive, too. It's not easy to keep up."
The Indiana woman was one of dozens who attended a meeting Thursday for uninsured people to register for government-funded health care.
Health officials held the clinic in the basement of an elementary school to deal with a surging number of applicants as a flood of layoffs forced scores of area residents off their employer-provided plans and into the peril of being uninsured in America.
Newlin arrived prepared with a folder jammed with old pay stubs, her birth certificate and all the other necessary documents to ensure she would be signed up.
But even if she qualifies, it will be some time before she's insured and any serious illness or accident could still bankrupt her family.
Health care has long been a contentious issue in American social and political life.
High costs, the exclusion of patients with pre-existing conditions and bureaucratic snafus plague the private system, which is unattainable for a growing number of Americans.
The federal government manages two health care systems: Medicaid, for the poor and Medicare, for the elderly. They currently amount to 5 percent of America's gross domestic product.
But the costs will more than double to 12 percent by 2050, under the Congressional Budget Office's current estimates.
Indiana launched a plan at the start of 2008 to cover some, the working poor, single parents, the moderately disabled, who are not protected by Medicaid.
Residents aren't eligible until they've gone six months uninsured, and there's a small pay-in for participants, helping to hold down costs.
President Barack Obama made health care reform a central plank in his populist platform when he ran for the White House.
And the massive stimulus package he signed Tuesday included plans to help cover the cost of temporary coverage for scores of displaced workers and possibly extend Medicaid coverage to other uninsured Americans who would not normally be eligible.
Yet comprehensive reform has been hampered by the distraction and cost of the current economic crisis, along with the loss of Obama's first pick for health secretary, Tom Daschle, who withdrew from consideration amid questions about his tax history.
Washington's political wrangling is a far way from those gathered in the colorful basement cafeteria of Indiana's Fairfield Elementary School.
Newlin, for one, doesn't hold out much hope for the government to solve anything soon.
"I don't even know if they know where half that money is going," she said of the stimulus.
Jerome and Brenda Lewis, a couple in their mid-50s, have been without insurance since October when she lost her job and their coverage.
They are hopeful Obama will bring change and are thankful for the work of people who organized the clinic, but turn to a greater power for balance in these unsteady times.
"Right now, by the grace of God, everything is all right for us. We keep praying that everything will be all right," Jerome Lewis said.
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