Joyce Hodgson has always worked and at times she’s had excellent health insurance. Five years ago, she became executive director of Little Theatre of Manchester at Cheney Hall, where she is the only paid person on staff – and has no health insurance.
She loves the work. She writes grants, creates brochures, and maintains the historic Cheney Hall.
“I do toilets,” she said, laughing. “I’m proud to do toilets.”
Hodgson lives with, in no particular order, a genetic loss of hearing, tinnitus, eczema, and arthritis. When something flares up, she tries to alleviate her symptoms with over-the-counter medication, rest, and time. She once had three episodes of chest pain before she called a doctor.
Under the Affordable Care Act, her preexisting conditions won’t keep her from being covered, but the policies she’s found recently are in the $1,200-a-month range, with a $5,000 deductible.
That’s about half her paycheck – leaving little for all her other living expenses.
But she’s actually considered signing on. She lives a mile from work. Could she bike or walk? What about food or the inevitable home repair?
Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released the most recent installment of the American Community Survey, which said nearly 47 million Americans—308,945 of whom are in Connecticut – were uninsured in 2011. Estimates for city dwellers – where poverty is more concentrated—ran higher. In Bridgeport, the poverty rate tops out at 25.7 percent; 23.3 percent of residents there didn’t have insurance at the time of the survey.
Even with a melted economy, the number of uninsured residents stayed relatively static over the last few years – which the New Haven-based Connecticut Voices for Children attributes to health reforms such as expanded eligibility in the state HUSKY health insurance program.
As companies seek to cut costs in a rough economy, fewer and fewer American workers are covered by traditional, employment-based plans. A February Gallup poll said 44.6 percent were covered by their employers in 2011, compared to 45.8 the year before. For employees who have such plans, out-of-pocket costs, co-pays, and deductibles, are rising, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. That’s especially true among low-wage earners, the people who can least afford the increase.
Like others who are uninsured, Hodgson navigates as best as she can. When Hodgson makes one of her infrequent doctor appointments, she tells office staff that she’s uninsured. Generally, she says doctors are willing to see her for half what they charge customers with insurance. She’s careful of her health, and open to alternative treatment. For the arthritis in her neck, she’s tried acupuncture, yoga – “everything western and eastern, unless there’s something coming from north or south, I’ve tried everything.”
“I think about it all the time,” said Hodgson. “All the time. You could give everybody basic care. That seems pretty elementary to me.”
The so-called state health exchange—or online insurance marketplace – should make insurance more accessible starting late next year. But accessible means nothing if the plans aren’t affordable, said Hodgson.
“If the government wants to make this available, they need to demand that health insurers bring down the prices – for everyone – even those who have it now,” Hodgson said. “Can you imagine what a positive affect it would have on businesses to be able to have their cost of health care for their employees lowered. They might be able to hire more people.”
Read more from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey here.