The person who just served you? She might be uninsured

Does the person who cuts your hair have health insurance?

Does the person who cuts your hair have health insurance?

So much of the time, when we talk about uninsured people, we talk in terms of statistics. But with more than 180,000 uninsured residents in King County, we can easily find people in every city and town.

As Mary L. Grady writes in the Mercer Island Reporter, “It is more instructive in matters such as this to think of faces, rather than figures.” She elaborates:

 If you sit and think about it for just a minute, you can probably guess which adults you know who do not have insurance. The person who cuts your hair or makes your latte, perhaps the person who answers the phone at a professional office or a shop, or a young man who coaches the kids’ soccer team.

When we stop and think about how uninsured  individuals, both young and old, must cope with medical costs, it is sobering. For everything from shots to an emergency room visit or perhaps an unexpected surgery, the effects of a bill running a couple hundred dollars is more than tough.

Most people can’t afford to spend $740 treating an upper respiratory infection or $3,437 for a kidney stone — yet according to Grady and a study performed by the National Institutes of Health, that’s the middle-of-the-road cost without coverage.

While we expect bills to be significant, the variability in such charges from one hospital to another is also a factor.  Yet, for an emergency room visit and for most unexpected health care needs, who has the time and resources to shop?

Even shopping for insurance can prove unwieldy, today. It’ll get easier, through the state-run marketplace for affordable health insurance, Washington Healthplanfinder. It’s an online interface that allows residents to compare plans and enroll. It seems easy enough, but as Lisa Stifler at The Seattle Times points out, an online tool alone isn’t enough:

The 15 percent of Washington households that lack Internet access might be missing out on trivial matters such as videos of the latest celebrity gaff or Facebook updates from nearly forgotten high school friends. But come next month, these residents are also going to have a harder time signing up for health insurance available as a result of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Recognizing that not everyone has Internet access, King County has partnered with organizations and volunteers, from Bothell to Enumclaw, to push messages on the ground and provide in-person assistance at local libraries and health and community centers. The assistance isn’t just for people uncomfortable with computers, as Stifler notes:

… particularly given that they need to be able to compare more than 40 plans to figure out which one they want, and they need to do things like enter income information to calculate what their insurance would cost or if they qualify for Medicaid or tax credits.

As Grady says, “So Obamacare is complex, costly and controversial. Yet for the 500 or so adults on Mercer Island without health insurance, it will be a godsend.” And, computer access or not, folks on Mercer Island can attend as many as six free enrollment events, where they’ll get personalized help navigating the process.

Health care — it’s personal, and so is the outreach.

2 comments on “The person who just served you? She might be uninsured

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