N.C. High-Risk Pool Small Step Toward Reducing Uninsured

June 14, 2006

As a telephone installer, aircraft maintenance worker and now a self-employed massage therapist, Stacie Schultz has never let illness stop her from earning a living.

“I don’t get sick. That’s not who I am,” said Schultz, 52, of Gastonia. “I have always performed physical work, but I did what I had to do keep myself up and running.”

So it irritated her to be quoted a $1,441 monthly health insurance premium, even though she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a decade ago. A healthy woman working for a large employer might pay only $50 a month.

“I’m penalized simply because I have this diagnosis and the people here don’t even know that I have it,” said Schultz, who goes to the county health department for medical care because she can’t afford a private policy.

The General Assembly is looking this year to help the 1.3 million people like Schultz who are under the age of 65 and lack health insurance. That number grew by 15 percent in the past five years as premiums grew faster than inflation and fewer employers offered coverage.

To help, lawmakers are considering a tax credit for small companies that pay a portion of insurance premiums for their workers, as well as a special insurance coverage pool for high-risk people such as Schultz.

But advocates for the uninsured acknowledge North Carolina can only do so much.

The high-risk pool bill, for example, which cleared a House committee last week, is projected to benefit just 9,000 people.

“We’ve been waiting for the federal government to act on this on a national level, but we’ve waited for four decades on this and it hasn’t happened,” said Pam Silberman, president of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, which released a report in April about the challenges facing the uninsured. “We came to the conclusion that there wasn’t an easy solution.”

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