Ain Ashby, 28, real estate agent and waitress "I was doing really well working for a mortgage company until 15 months ago, but then the bank closed and I lost my job. I have a real estate license, and I've gone back to school full time to study economics. But I cannot get a job to save my life. I've started working nights at a restaurant for minimum wage: $6.75 plus tips."
"I came here today to find out if I qualify for Medi-Cal [the California state version of Medicaid] and because I sprained my ankle. The Marin clinic doesn't have an X-ray machine, so they sent me to the emergency room. If I don't qualify for Medi-Cal today, I'm guessing I'll have to pay about $900. That's not all: I have to pay out of pocket now for birth control pills, treatment for my eye problems, my annual physical... My short-term goal is to get on Medi-Cal. My long-term goal is to get a job with benefits."
Fact: Two thirds of uninsured women work at least part time.
Agustina Gomez, 23, a bank teller said "My husband works as a freelance construction worker, and in a good year the two of us make $40,000, too much to make public insurance programs an option. But we can't afford the premium for the health plan at the bank where I work, either. The last time I saw a doctor was three years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, Allejandro. Right after his birth, I went to the emergency room with stomach ulcers. I was in a lot of pain, and it was getting worse and worse. The doctors saw me, did an X-ray and told me to go home, that I was fine. Then I got a bill for $2,000. We're trying to pay it off, but now it's gone to a collection agency. I don't know what we'll do."
Solving the Problem
The number of uninsured is skyrocketing at unprecedented rates, says Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a Washington, D.C., health care watchdog. Naturally, policy makers want to confront the problem -- Though it's unlikely these plans will become reality soon, you'll hear more about them as the 2004 presidential campaign gears up.
There Ought To Be a Law
Just as driving without car insurance makes you a menace, going without health coverage raises the cost of care for everyone else. So why not mandate health insurance as we do for cars? That's the plan favored by Senator John Breaux (D-La.), who supports tax credits to help individuals afford it.
You Deserve a Break
Low- and middle-income Americans who lack health insurance should get a tax credit to help them buy it elsewhere, proposes President Bush. The administration has also increased federal funding for community clinics (the Marin clinic gets $450,000 a year) and high-risk health insurance pools run by the states.
Coverage for All
One of the most ambitious proposals comes from Representative Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), a candidate for president. He says Congress should repeal tax cuts passed since 2001 and use the windfall -- at least $210 billion a year -- to guarantee coverage for every uninsured American. Employers would have to offer insurance, but the feds would pay for 60 percent of the cost.
Uninsured? Read this now
Don't take risks with your health. Consider some of these stopgap ways to get covered:
Comparison shop for the cheapest health plans at Insure.com. If you're in good health, think about catastrophic coverage. With lower premiums and high deductibles, these plans won't cover basic care but help pay for big-ticket problems.