Healthcare Act: Voices of the Uninsured

The new law sparks reactions from those required to buy insurance under the new law.

Healthcare law

People debated the Affordable Care Act outside the Supreme Court today, which ruled in favor of the individual mandate provision of the law. (Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images)

Matt Fleischer was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

Giving people access to reasonable healthcare is the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, and today’s Supreme Court ruling supporting the law also upholds the individual mandate requiring citizens to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

Reaction to the ruling has been mixed, especially among those the bill affects most: the uninsured. TakePart spoke with several uninsured men and women, all of whom expressed various emotions about the court’s decision as well as trepidation about how much they’ll eventually have to pay for coverage.

“I support Obamacare, but the mandate is tricky for someone in my economic situation,” says Cedar Sherbert, 41, an uninsured Los Angeles teacher and filmmaker. “I understand we all need to contribute to the pool, so that we all benefit. That’s how it works. But there are people like me in the world who can’t afford it. There is something a little off-putting about the government forcing me to buy private insurance.”

Sherbert wasn’t the only one to echo that sentiment.

“I would love health insurance, but I can’t afford it,” says Jennifer Calica, 30, an uninsured waitress in Glendale, California. “How are you going to force me to get something I want, but I can’t afford? If the government wants me to have insurance so bad, they should provide it for me.”

Not all uninsured people feel that way. Will Art, a 33-year-old freelance editor from Brooklyn, New York, says that while his ideal system would be to scrap health insurance altogether and create a single payer system run by the government, the reforms made in the Affordable Care Act were too important to trash outright. “If the ruling had been overturned, I don’t think anything on this scale would have been attempted in the next decade or two. Single payer just wouldn’t happen. So I’m in favor of the ruling. I’m glad it went the way it did.”

Los Angeles-based freelance blogger Pandora Young agrees: “I was never over-the-moon for Obamacare, but it’s a step in the right direction for people like me, who can’t afford to go to the doctor when we get sick.”

No one we spoke with understood how exactly the individual mandate is going to be enforced. If they could afford health insurance, they all said, they would have it already. Though everyone was vaguely aware that the new law will provide subsidies for low-income people to obtain insurance, none understood exactly how these subsidies would work, or if they’d be eligible.

“I haven’t done my homework, honesty, about what kind of subsidies would be out there,” says Sherbert. “I probably should have done my due diligence. But people like me, our ranks are swelling. The plan needs to take that into account.”

All were angry at the suggestion of having to pay a penalty for not having a service they couldn’t afford.

“How can you possibly justify penalizing poor people?” Young says.

Young, Calica, and Sherbert were all concerned they still wouldn’t be able to afford private insurance, even with the help of government subsidies. 

They may have a point.

One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act was to create an insurance pool for individuals with pre-existing conditions who had either been denied insurance because of their illness, or priced out of the private market. But entering the new pool isn’t cheap. In California, for example, a 30 to 34-year-old uninsured L.A. resident with a documented pre-existing condition can buy into a state insurance pool for $218 per month, per one of the law’s provisions that’s already taken effect. That’s far less expensive than paying for care out of pocket, especially for catastrophic illnesses or serious accidents, but the amount is still out of reach for many.

Will Art, however, was the lone person we spoke to unconcerned with the now inevitable upcoming knock to his bottom line. “I’m not dreading the payments as they’re currently set up,” he says. “By 2014, [when the law takes effect] I will probably have coverage through my employer. It’s my understanding this law will force more employers to provide health plans to their workers. So I expect to be among that group.”

As for the rest, despite their fears, all expressed some sense of relief at knowing they would likely have some kind of healthcare access in the next two years. “Both my parents have diabetes,” says Sherbert. “It scares me to death thinking that something will happen to me and I won’t have access to healthcare. I have my concerns with Obamacare, but it’s definitely better than what I’m facing now.”

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