KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

The Uninsured, Putting Off Care, Facing Debt

ProPublica profiles Anne Johnson, a 41-year-old single mother in California "whose family has been uninsured since she lost her job as a secretary in February," and explores how health reform could affect her. Johnson "needs her aortic valve replaced, but without insurance she can't afford the surgery. She is supposed to get checkups every six months, but that is also too expensive – so she has put them off." Under health reform provisions currently being considered in Congress, "Johnson would be able to purchase private health insurance from a gateway or exchange," and "her low income would qualify her for a subsidy" to help pay for it. If Johnson did not buy insurance, however, she would "have to pay a hefty tax penalty" (Pierce, 11/2).

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that hospital emergency rooms "have become have become the U.S. health care system's safety net, where anyone can go for treatment and no one can be turned away because they can't pay in advance. Gail Johnson, a 56-year-old uninsured diabetic in North Carolina, says she has amassed a debt of over $20,000 seeking treatment in the emergency room. "Experts say using emergency care in place of checkups and doctor visits is the most expensive way to deal with chronic illness. Many of the 119.2 million emergency visits racked up in 2006 were for problems that could have been prevented through regular primary care. More than 17 percent of those visits - nearly 21 million - were made by patients who had no insurance, according to the National Center for Health Statistics" (Quillin, 11/2). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.