Insuring the Uninsured: A No-Brainer

I’ll call her Joan. She is 61 years old, working in real estate and living comfortably in an upscale rental apartment thanks partly to rent control. She has a small 401k and a small, steady income from shared family ownership in a stable investment property. But the real estate business, you may have heard, hasn’t been wonderful lately. Joan lives frugally, gives of her time and resources to community nonprofits and is highly respected in business and social groups. She has no health insurance.

“I would if I could,” she told me some time ago. “But it’s either buy insurance or buy dinner. I’m fond of eating.” Twice in the past year Joan has had to have medical treatment; once for a nasty wound in a bike accident, once for an infection that required an overnight hospital stay. She went to the only place available, the understaffed emergency room of a crowded public hospital. Who picked up the tab? You and I. I am happy to do so, for Joan and everyone else who winds up in these predicaments. But come on, it’s not exactly cost-effective.

Expanding coverage to those currently uninsured is only one segment of this moving-target health reform; I hope it doesn’t get lost the way other key elements seem to be straying from the scene. People like Joan would be the first to purchase insurance through any reasonably-priced plan. Unfortunately, I don’t see many insurance companies eager to offer such a thing, and I don’t know where many of the currently uninsured will go if the public option comes off the table.  There were some 47 million uninsured at the latest count. Add to those the swiftly-rising numbers of independent contractors and freelancers of all sorts.

Getting non-emergency care out of the nation’s emergency rooms seems an enlightened thing to do… if we could just have a little more light and less heat in the discussion.


  1. It is obscene to me that anyone cannot afford to buy quality health insurance and must rely instead on the variable (slow, noisy, impersonal) care offered by their local hospital. As someone who has been to her local ER many many times for stupid stuff and a few serious things, I have never once lived without health insurance, even paying $500 a month back in 2001 for it, buying it privately as a freelancer. That high cost meant I had to forego many other pleasures, but it was a non-choice to go without it.

    I find it equally obscene that the 1/3 of Americans now working freelance, etc. have no effective, audible voice (?!!) in this “debate.”
    Only the employers whining about their employee costs and HMOs terrified of losing profits….?

    1. I think freelancers, and everybody we know and can badger to join us, have got to keep up what pressure we can apply: letters, e-mails, calls & joining forces. pontesisto, commenting on Allison Kilkenny’s blog, had a new voter-bloc suggestion I’d not heard of and which I’ve now joined. Might be all for naught, but I’m not giving up until the fat congressperson sings.

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