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'I can't afford to get sick'

Thousands live without health insurance in county

Thousands live without health insurance in county

April 02, 2007|by MARIE GILBERT

James Renner was never much of a worrier.

But worry is what the 64-year-old Hagerstown resident seems to do a lot of these days.

He's concerned about getting sick, needing medical treatment or being hospitalized.

Renner is without health insurance.

Employed as a delivery driver for a local company, Renner said he had to retire recently because he couldn't afford to buy a new van that was required to do his job.

When he left, he also left behind his health care benefits."I've looked for other jobs that offer health insurance," Renner said. "But while they don't come out and say it, most places want to hire someone younger than me."

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Renner is among a growing number of Americans who live day to day without health insurance.

According to current statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 46 million people in the United States are uninsured.

In Washington County, the most recent census data, compiled in 2000, shows that 12,901 individuals were without medical coverage. Statewide the number is about 790,000.

Renner said he gets about $900 a month from Social Security but says by the time he pays his bills, "there's nothing left."

"I'm making it, but that's it," he said. "Yet when I apply for help, they tell me I don't qualify. It makes me a little angry."

Renner said he won't be able to access his IRA for several more months and admitted it won't be long before he's broke. Even after he's able to dip into his IRA, it won't go very far.

"I didn't get involved with 401K until I was older," he said. "I built up a little bit of money for retirement but not enough to make a difference. Not in today's world."

Private insurance unaffordable

Renner and others in his age group are not alone in their health care woes.

According to the Census Bureau, the number of young adults without health insurance has skyrocketed in the past six years. The bureau estimates that more than 15 million people ages 18 through 34 are now living without medical coverage.

Falling into that category is 28-year-old Dara Miller.

"I can't afford to get sick," the Hagerstown resident said. "Recently, I had a fever, sore throat and really bad head congestion. But I decided to ride it out."

Miller said she works about 30 hours a week in retail. But as a part-timer, she doesn't qualify for health care coverage. And with her wages, she can't afford a private policy of her own.

"I hate not having health insurance," she said. "But from the quotes I've received, all of my money would go for premiums. I have rent, utilities and car payments to consider."

Miller said she did find a doctor who has put her on an installment plan when she needs medical care.

"But there were times when I should have gone to the doctor that I didn't," she said. "I can't afford to have bills piling up. If I became seriously ill, I'd have to get financial assistance or take out a loan."

Miller said that while she likes her job and the people she works with, she has applications in at several businesses. Her priority is a job with benefits.

"Right now, I'm kind of gambling with my health," she said.

According to a government study, young people lack health insurance for a variety of reasons. Many have just graduated from college and are searching for jobs or they've started careers at smaller companies that don't offer coverage.

Even if a young adult is covered as a dependent under his parents' employers' health insurance, the study says that many group health plans only cover dependent children as old as age 19 or age 23 or 25 as long as that child is a full-time student.

Help at Community Free Clinic

A major resource for the medically uninsured or underinsured is the Community Free Clinic of Washington County. The nonprofit clinic opened its doors in 1990 and offers free medical care and free medicine to Washington County residents.

According to Robin Roberson, executive director, the clinic has experienced steady growth over the years and sees about 16,000 people annually.

Roberson said there are only two requirements for being a patient at the clinic: You must not have any private or public health insurance and must live in Washington County.

"We provide a complete range of primary care," she said. "The only thing we don't offer are X-rays."

Roberson said there is often a misconception about the patients who visit the free clinic.

"It might come as a surprise, but 80 percent of our patients are full-time workers," she said. "But they are not offered health care benefits or work minimum wage jobs and can't afford private insurance."

Roberson said the clinic also has seen an increase in the number of people who work for industries where their insurance has been dropped as a cost-saving measure.

"Many people tell us they don't know what they would do without the clinic," she said. "They're extremely grateful and express their appreciation to us on a daily basis."

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