Uninsured Massachusetts Consumer Who Cannot Afford Mandatory Purchase of Health Insurance Flies 3,000 Miles to Speak Out; Is Thrown Out Of Capitol By Speaker Nunez

Consumer Advocates Reported For Misdemeanors in Clear Case of Selective


Jan 16, 2008, 00:00 ET from Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., Jan. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Speaker Fabian
 Nunez directed the California Highway Patrol to prevent an uninsured
 patient who traveled 3,000 miles to speak out against mandatory insurance
 from telling his story in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday.
     The Massachusetts consumer, Ron Norton, cannot afford to buy health
 insurance under his home-state law requiring all residents to purchase
 private insurance policies or face financial penalties. He flew out for a
 hearing that was cancelled, then was prevented by Nunez from speaking
 inside the Capitol to press and forced to speak in the 38 degree weather
 outside. Consumer advocates accompanying Norton, and releasing poll results
 critical of Nunez's mandatory health purchase plan, were told they were
 being reported for a misdemeanor for talking to the press inside the
 Capitol, though it is a common practice by lobbyists, and though they
 complied with the California Highway Patrol's order to leave the building.
     CHP officers said they had been notified of the news conference and
 directed to act by the Speaker's office.
     "Speaker Nunez obviously thinks so little of the uninsured that he is
 willing to throw them out in the cold rather than have their voices heard
 in the Capitol," said consumer advocate Jerry Flanagan, who was cited with
 the misdemeanor. "Being ejected from the Capitol for speaking out about the
 problems with health care is emblematic of a debate that has occurred
 behind closed doors with campaign contributors. When it's a crime for the
 uninsured to speak out in the Capitol about health care, it's a sorry sign
 of a leadership afraid of any criticism."
     Read the new poll from consumer advocates
     ABX1 1, backed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker
 Fabian Nunez, requires that consumers prove they have private health
 insurance but does not limit what insurers can charge for coverage. The
 bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Health Committee on January 23.
 Consumer advocates at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
 (FTCR) recently wrote to legislators explaining how the costs to consumers
 under the Nunez/Schwarzenegger proposal. Read the letter at
     Norton, an adjunct professor of radiology at a Massachusetts community
 college, who is classified as an "independent contractor," does not have
 insurance from his state employer. He makes about $40,000 a year, too much
 to qualify for an exemption from the state's requirement that individuals
 buy private insurance policies. But he can't afford the high combined
 premiums and deductibles of the policies that state is calling
 "affordable." He will discuss the unaffordability of such private
 insurance, in Massachusetts or under the proposed California health
 insurance legislation, for middle-class workers.
     Statement of Ron Norton:
     "I'm Ron Norton, an adjunct professor of radiology and an administrator
 at a Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. But like
 66% of our community college teachers, I'm considered an independent
 contractor and don't get health insurance.
     "After a few years of making about $21,000, I made closer to $40,000
 last year because I'm also doing an administrative job. Under the
 Massachusetts insurance law my family won't get subsidy because even though
 my wife has health insurance with her employer, her income is counted
 against my eligibility.
     "Her small employer doesn't offer family insurance. I imagine lots of
 California families are in the same situation.
     "I'm 47 and have no health problems but the cheapest individual plan
 available in Massachusetts is $234 a month. That's 6.8% of my salary. That
 "cheap" plan has a $2,000 per person pushing the cost up to 12.7% of my
 gross salary. Even if I bought the policy I still wouldn't have affordable
 health care, and the number of doctors is very limited.
     "I have a daughter, and it gets much worse if I want to insure her. The
 cheapest plan for the two of us is $440 a month, $5280 a year. That's 11.6%
 of my income alone. The cheapest medium-range plan - without the huge
 deductibles - is $632 a month, nearly 20% of my own salary.
     "I think that many people who struggle to buy a policy this year will
 find themselves priced out of the market in a year or two as premiums
 spiral upward. That's already started to happen in Massachusetts, with
 insurance companies talking about double-digit premium increases.
     "Think about it: families use their savings to pay for the policy and
 can't afford it the next year or the year after, ending up both uninsured
 and with no savings. That's one reason I refuse to use up my own small
 savings on mandatory insurance.
     "I'll probably have to quit teaching after this year, even though I
 love it, and look for a clinical radiology technician job with benefits.
     "After a few years of making $21,000 I'm trying to dig out of a hole. A
 lot of my students will be in a similar bind, buried in student debt even
 if they're making decent pay.
     "We drive old cars and live a frugal life, but I need to pay for things
 like auto repairs, household appliances that need to be replaced and my
 daughter's orthodontia.
     "Our only family extra is my daughter's dancing lessons, to which she's
 devoted. That would be the first but not the last thing to go. It would
 just crush her.
     "All this so insurance companies can make more money.
     "If I lived in California I wouldn't be any better off.
     "All of our family income would be counted, and I would have to insure
 both myself and my daughter. We wouldn't be eligible for a tax credit or
 any automatic exemptions. The so-called mid-range plan that the state is
 considering would cost at least $350 a month, nearly 6% of our family
 income. With the $2,500 deductible its 7.3% of income. Plus the limit on
 out of pocket payments is $15,000. It's what some people call 'Mack Truck'
 insurance: You'd only use it if you got run over by a truck.
     "I wish our government would stop catering to the private insurance
 industry and calling it universal health care. It's not, and the biggest
 victims of this scam are the middle class."
     The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is California's
 leading public interest watchdog. For more information, visit us on the web
 at http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

SOURCE Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights