New Baby - No Insurance...
Shortly after being laid off last October, Chris Jackson learned his wife was pregnant with their first child.
"It was good news, but the timing couldn't have been worse," the 27-year-old Manchester resident said.
Jackson and his wife, Jacinda, a full-time graduate student, have been without health insurance since November 2007. They elected to discontinue coverage after Jackson's employer changed to a plan that would cost the couple more.
"Health insurance was taking so much out of my check each week, I just couldn't afford it," Chris Jackson said.
As the U.S. recession persists, circumstances like the Jacksons' are becoming more common. With joblessness on the rise -- New Hampshire's unemployment rate hit 5.1 percent in January, the highest level since March 1994 -- New Hampshire health-care providers are serving more uninsured patients.
Although the recently enacted federal stimulus package provides a temporary private health-insurance subsidy for laid-off workers, more Granite Staters are seeking care through public programs. Others are not paying their bills or are putting off treatment altogether.
While President Obama prepares to host a bipartisan summit on health-care reform this week, the recession is testing families such as the Jacksons.
After undergoing hernia-repair surgery last April, Chris incurred a bill of close to $10,000. "We worked out a payment plan with the hospital, but when I got laid off from my job, I couldn't pay those bills," he said. "It's had a pretty profound effect on my credit as well."
Jacinda is receiving prenatal care at the federally qualified Manchester Community Health Center, which offers free and discount care to many uninsured patients, Chris said. She is also receiving nutritional assistance through the federal WIC program, he added.
Meanwhile, Chris is substitute teaching and looking for full-time work while Jacinda finishes her master's degree in psychology.
"Hopefully she's able to land a job right out of school," Chris said. "The reality is we may have to move to a state where there are more opportunities."
Unpaid hospital bills
Because of its expense, the couple opted not to buy COBRA, which enables employees who leave a job to purchase the health insurance offered by their previous employer. The average monthly cost of COBRA for New Hampshire families is $1,191 -- or nearly equal to the average Granite State family unemployment insurance benefit of $1,210 per month -- according to a report the New Hampshire Health Care for America Now Coalition released last week.
Under a temporary COBRA subsidy included in the economic stimulus package, former workers involuntarily terminated between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009, can purchase nine months of coverage by paying only 35 percent of the premium. (The remaining 65 percent is paid by the employer, who will receive the money back in a payroll tax credit.)
For the Jacksons, the subsidy reduces COBRA's price into the realm of consideration. "It probably brings it closer to a reasonable mark," Chris said. "If things were to continue as they are right now, I probably could afford it."
Although the COBRA subsidy is intended to help laid-off workers, many might not be aware of it. While treating a patient last week whose husband had recently lost his job, Nashua ophthalmologist John Dagianis informed her of the subsidy.
"She had no clue," said Dagianis, a partner at Nashua Eye Associates. "Whatever message [policymakers] are putting out there, I'm not sure it's gotten out to the people who need it."