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Uninsured Utahns

Swine Flu Turns to Disaster for Uninsured Utahn

Three years ago, 62-year-old Merce Butler, left her job of 11 years to care for her dying mother overseas. She sold her car and drained her savings to make the move. Sadly, her mother passed away after a few months. Upon returning to Utah, Merce tried to re-enter the workforce, but with the economic downturn, nobody was hiring, particularly women in their sixties. She now makes due with her social security income, coping day by day.

In June disaster struck. Merce became extremely ill and ended up in the emergency room.  She was diagnosed with a serious case of the swine flu and had to remain in the hospital for three days. Since Merce lost her health insurance when she left her job, the $16,000 hospital bill fell in her lap. She pleaded with the hospital to take her situation into account and reduce the bill, but she still owes over $11,000. “I have no idea how I’ll pay this off – I don’t even have $100 dollars right now, and I’m living month to month. I don’t know how this happened – I’m such a healthy person.  The swine flu?  I still can’t believe it. What was I supposed to do in the emergency room?  Go home because I had no insurance, and infect everyone around me?” 

Merce will not qualify for Medicare for another three years. In the meantime she feels trapped. Although, she has recovered from the swine flu, she has not recovered from the medical debt. She also knows that at any moment, disaster could strike again. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be a big help to Merce:

Starting in March 2010: Increased funding for Community Health Centers to allow for nearly a doubling of the number of patients seen by the centers over the next 5 years.  Community Health Centers charge a sliding fee scale based on income, thus making care more affordable for Merce.

In June 2010: There will be new standards for non-profit hospitals to protect uninsured patients.

In 2014: Adults can now obtain insurance even with their pre-existing conditions.
Individuals buy insurance through a new online, state-based marketplace called an exchange. 

Families may receive subsidies to help buy coverage from the state’s health insurance exchange.  Based on income, there will be a cap to the amount charged for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses will also be capped.

Medicaid will expand to families making up to 133 percent of the poverty level.