Ken Norling is a self-employed computer programmer. He’s also one of thousands of Georgians without health insurance. Georgia ranks 11th nationally in the percentage of the population lacking coverage, according to a 2008 report from the Georgia State University’s Health Policy Center and the Center for Health Services Research.
The August 2009 Census report showed that approximately one in four Georgians aged 18 to 64 had no form of health insurance in 2007. That was before the bottom dropped out of the economy, unemployment surged and those uninsured spiked.
“You remember that television show, “Sanford and Son?’” Norling asked only half-jokingly. “Fred used to always say, ‘This is the big one!’ I just hope the big one doesn’t come.”
In reality, Norling, 51 of Smyrna, is better off than most. He has taken some precautionary steps like bumping up health coverage on his car and home insurance policies. It’s not ideal, but the worst mistake of all is forgoing health insurance completely, said Sam Gibbs, the senior vice president of ehealthInsurance.com, which helps consumers shop for affordable policies.
“The real reason is two-fold,” Gibbs said. “If you get sick, you have to pay for it out of pocket. What’s worse than that is you have to pay for it at list price or the rack rate. You get none of the discounts that an insured person gets.”
Choosing the wrong insurance can also be a big setback, said Holly Lang of the nonprofit agency, Georgia Watch.
“Don’t be blindsided,” Lang said. “Double-check to make sure everything you need is covered. Be an active consumer because medical bills are a massive driver of financial trouble.”
Those unemployed, underemployed or self-employed do have some options, though:
Catastrophic insurance: While the deductible can be high, the monthly payments are within reason. It covers emergency room visits.
Local clinics: The waiting time is often incredibly long, but the service is much cheaper than a private doctor’s office. Clinics are a good way for the uninsured to get preventative care as well.
Drug discounts: Some pharmacies have discount cards for prescription drugs. Publix has free generic oral antibiotics. You can also choose an insurance plan that only includes generic drug coverage.
Public-assistance programs: Minimum income levels for Medicaid have been raised, and there may be other government programs you qualify for.
Be careful: Paul Furman, 41 of Marietta, was lured into what he describes as an insurance scam out of Texas. While it claimed to provide affordable insurance coverage, it turned out to be a discount plan that charged a monthly membership fee if you used certain pharmacists or doctors, for example.
He lost his job in February of 2009 and could not afford the high premiums of COBRA. Although Furman has since found a job, he was forced to take a big paycut — and search for insurance. He now has a health savings account for his family through his new job, but it is by no means comprehensive coverage.
“We’re taking a gamble and hoping that nothing happens,” Furman said.