Uninsured face avalanche of health costs

Wed May 27, 2009 7:43pm EDT
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By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When Jim Hann learned he would be laid off, he scheduled surgery to donate a kidney to his wife.

Steve Drake rationed his asthma medicine after he was let go while two-time cancer survivor Roberta Furchak had to draw on precious retirement savings to ensure her tests were covered after she lost her job.

All three were trying to compensate for losing health insurance in a country where unemployment often means going without coverage.

With unemployment rising to its highest level in more than a quarter century, more Americans are confronting the double crisis of losing both their jobs and their employer-sponsored insurance, which covers 177 million people.

Many unemployed Americans say they cannot afford the high premiums insurance companies charge for personal policies. People like Furchak and Drake who have pre-existing medical conditions have a tough time even finding coverage.

A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said the number of uninsured Americans could jump to more than 65 million in 10 years as healthcare costs more than double. The U.S. Census Bureau says about 46 million Americans are currently without insurance.

President Barack Obama has vowed to reform the healthcare industry and lawmakers are struggling to figure out a compromise all can agree on.

Hann, a 51-year-old plant worker from Coolville, Ohio, pushed doctors at Georgetown University Hospital to speed up a transplant operation so he could donate his kidney to his ailing wife Hannah while he was still covered.   Continued...

<p>Beds lie empty in an emergency room in New Orleans February 14, 2006. REUTERS/Lee Celano</p>