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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
Date:1/16/2008

Consumer Advocates Reported For Misdemeanors in Clear Case of Selective Enforcement

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 http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/hcpoll.pdf

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 http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/KuehlLetterOpposeABX1_1.pdf

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


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SOURCE Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
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