KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Tales Of Health Insurance Plights Highlight Overhaul Efforts

Analysts say many in America take jobs they otherwise wouldn't simply for the health insurance coverage, Reuters/Boston Globe reports. "It is a situation most Europeans, Canadians and others who enjoy national health services would find bewildering if not appalling and is one factor fueling the drive to reform the hugely expensive U.S. healthcare system. … U.S. company healthcare plans are usually subsidized by the employer. They are much more affordable and comprehensive than private plans that can exceed a $1,000 a month for a family, a huge burden for most households."

This makes even low-wage jobs like serving coffee at Starbucks, where a coverage plan can cost as little as $25 a month, more attractive than others who sometimes have full-time jobs in addition.

"'I probably work 60 hours a week because I'm a full-time realtor. ... I get up at around 4 a.m. every week day,' said (Lisa) DeWaal, 44, a South African immigrant and widow, who begins her Starbucks shift at 5 o'clock each morning. DeWaal said her plan, which includes her children, cost her $46 a week or close to $180 a month. "'Health insurance is exactly the reason why I have taken the extra job. It's company health insurance, which is a lot better than a private plan. I would put these extra hours into real estate if I had affordable health insurance,' she said. June data from the U.S. Department of Labor showed about 7.1 million Americans were 'multiple job holders,' well down from 7.7 million in June 2008 as the job market shrank with the economy" (Stoddard, 7/9).

Small business owners, too, are feeling the sting of health care costs, The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star reports: "Small business owners… are trapped in a triple-layered maze when it comes to affordable, accessible, quality health care. Increasingly, they can't afford health insurance for themselves or their employees, what they can afford often leaves them unhappy, underinsured, and… in unexpected debt. The sick business of health care is also prompting them to add their voices to the debate over health-care reform, both individually and collectively as members of state and national organizations."

"Tammy Finch (owner of a small computer repair business) had been told, and had the paperwork to prove it, that they'd never pay more than $4,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses. The couple lost the battle. They ended up with a $5,000 hospital bill and a hospital unwilling to make payment arrangements they could afford. … She recently spent a lot of time searching for a new group plan, at a cost of $700 a month, that allows the couple to extend affordable health benefits to their young employees. If either employee had opted not to participate in the plan, which is not unusual for young people, the Finches would not be able to afford it" (Adams, 7/10).

Mandating employer coverage and levying only a small fee on employers who don't offer it in Massachusetts hasn't led to a dumping of employees from plans, The Boston Globe reports: "Three years after the state passed its requirements, Massachusetts businesses have not canceled insurance plans at all. In fact,150,000 more residents are privately insured through their employers. 'Certainly this suggests that you don't need a strong employer mandate to fight erosion'' of employer-sponsored insurance, said Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who is advising both Congress and the Obama administration on healthcare."

Democrats believe an employer mandate is critical to reform while opponents believe it will be an unbearable economic burden, especially for small businesses (Wangsness, 7/10).

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