Pittsburghers rejoice and worry about effects of the health plan
Ken Haney, 26, a musician, hopes the new health care bill will allow him to continue expensive medicine used to treat his multiple sclerosis paid for by Medicaid, and allow him to work at a job. If he worked now, he would lose his Medicaid benefits.
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Ken Haney is caught in the kind of vicious cycle that's supposed to end under the health insurance reform legislation passed Sunday night by the House of Representatives. He's had to choose between making a living and getting life-saving health care. Of course he's chosen the latter, but he would rather do both.
Mr. Haney has multiple sclerosis. He is being kept relatively functional by monthly infusions that cost $3,000 each, paid for by Medicaid because he couldn't get health insurance due to his pre-existing condition. He wants to work full time, but if he earns more than $200 a month he won't qualify for Medicaid. Without treatment, he'll become too disabled to work.
Mr. Haney, 26, of Polish Hill, is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. Right now he's giving music lessons and doing odd jobs. He doesn't have a car, a cell phone or cable TV. His parents help with his living expenses.
"I would like to work full time, earn a living and have a normal life," he said. "The treatments are working well, and I'm so much better than I was before. I ride my bike everywhere and don't have a problem with the steps in my house.
"I had health insurance, but it didn't actually pay for any of my medical expenses. I tried to get a better policy but they turned me down.
"If I could get affordable health care coverage, I could work and still be covered. With what's passed, maybe it will provide me with that option. As of now I don't have any options."
Plenty of people are still opposed to the reform measure that passed by a vote of 219-212. Every Republican member of the House voted against it, as did some conservative Democrats, including Jason Altmire of McCandless. President Barack Obama is to sign the bill into law today, but the GOP is vowing a repeal effort.
The new law will require businesses with 50 or more workers to provide health care coverage. Martha Jordan, chief operating officer of American Auto-Matrix, said her company has downsized to fewer than 50 people, but still covers everyone who works there.
Still, she said in an e-mail, "I know that this bill will make many small businesses that would otherwise hire those next five to 10 employees, or even one, reconsider their position and needs based on the cost of hiring that 50th employee.
"I believe we will see a lot more 49-employee small businesses."
Georgia Berner, owner and CEO of Berner International in New Castle, which makes energy recovery systems, likes the new legislation.
"I think this is huge and wonderful," she said.
Her company already pays health benefits for its 60 employees, but doing so gets more time-consuming and costly each year. Some 16 percent of her payroll now goes to health insurance, she said, and the last insurance rate hike was 20 percent.
"This won't cost us more," she said. "When you balance it against the tax cut, it will save us money."
C. Karl Sauereisen, vice president and director of Sauereisen Inc., a third-generation, family owned manufacturer of specialty cements, said he's grateful that the new legislation will help people who haven't been able to afford health insurance. But he's disappointed that it won't address escalating medical costs. He also expects an expensive and badly run bureaucracy to result, as well as a decline in access and the quality of care.
"I don't view the new plan as one that provides incentive for a firm like ours," he said in an e-mail.
Then there's Linda Portis, 54, of Larimer, who is relieved that the legislation passed. She has been without insurance for six months. She was laid off from her job managing a dental office and hasn't been able to find work. That job was full time but offered no benefits, so she bought her own. But without work, she had to choose between her mortgage and her insurance.
"What good is health care without housing?" she said.
Ms. Portis ran up a few thousand dollars in medical bills when she contracted a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection. She's paying it off at a rate of $25 a month.
"All of us that are uninsured, hopefully we can get some proper care that a lot of us have gone without," she said. "With this passed, at least we know we can get some medical benefits. How long it's going to take to be implemented is another thing."
First Published March 23, 2010 12:00 am