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"Health Insurance - Ohio Edition"

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April 27, 2009 -- On their third stint without health insurance, the Wirebaughs worry that they are one accident away from financial ruin.

Barb Wirebaugh's husband worked for the same company for more than 28 years until his job disappeared like so many others in the manufacturing industry. Then more jobs were found and lost, and the couple from Bucyrus in north-central Ohio have nearly given up on finding health coverage.

"I am just so, so tired," said Wirebaugh, who is running her own mental health counseling service. "I worry about so much. I am grateful to have my children on the coverage they have. I'm just worried that one disaster would wipe us out."

Their three children are on Medicaid, but Wirebaugh and her husband are like roughly 1 million other adults in Ohio's downtrodden economy — jobless or employed, and without coverage. Not only have workers lost their jobs in the onslaught of the recession, many small businesses are no longer able to afford insurance policies for their employees.

Gov. Ted Strickland faced a quandary as he tried to address the plight of the uninsured in his proposed budget: The number of Ohioans without health coverage is growing when the state can least afford to do anything about it.

The percentage of uninsured adults between ages 18 and 64 went from 15 percent in 2004 to 17 percent in 2008, according to the 2008 Ohio Family Health Survey.

Strickland developed plans he said would give an additional 110,000 uninsured Ohioans access to health coverage with an impact of only a few million dollars on state revenue. The state could not afford to pursue more aggressive measures that could help more than just a fraction of the uninsured population.

And what the state can do to help the uninsured will likely have an impact elsewhere.

"Someone's cost is someone else's revenue," said Bill Hayes, president of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, a nonpartisan organization that conducts research on health care trends and policies.

Small businesses already straining in the recession believe that cost will fall on them. The friction between expanding health coverage and protecting the interests of small businesses will be a key component in the debate over the roughly $54 billion budget now in the hands of the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate.

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