Story written by Breyanah Graham.
COLUMBIA — Because of the financial burden caused by the expensive cost of her health care, retired teacher Samantha Jones has lost faith in the health care system.
“I pay $500 a month out of pocket for my health care that is not covered by my insurance,” Jones said. “It’s not affordable. You have other things, and if you are paying four, five hundred a month it’s so hard, especially for people that don’t have a lot.”
Jones is one of the many people in the U.S. who don’t have the health care coverage. Her insurance has coverage gaps, leaving her with high medical bills.
“You either have insurance or you don’t,” Jones said. “We have so many people that need medical help. They have insurances that they can’t afford, bills from doctors. It’s a problem everywhere.”
With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, more low-income Americans are able to get affordable and quality health insurance. “The percentage of working-age adults who are uninsured has dropped from 18 percent to 13.4 percent,” according to the latest edition of The Commonwealth Fund’s Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey recorded in May. These numbers reflect that the Affordable Care Act coverage is helping many people that could not have previously afforded health care.
However, while the Affordable Care Act has made insurance affordable for many people, its benefits have not been accessible for everyone. Under law, states are allowed to decide whether to expand Medicaid to people who are not eligible for its coverage. For people such as Jones who do not qualify for Medicaid or government aid, this means that the majority of the cost of their health care has to come out of pocket, which can cause a serious financial burden.
Cale Mitchell, the executive director for Rain-Central Missouri, has seen the burden firsthand. Rain is a nonprofit aid service organization that works with low-income individuals with HIV, Hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases.
“Income inequality and health care inequality go hand in hand,” Mitchell said. “When they come to us, they have other needs that need to be met besides health care, like housing and education. It’s like the chicken and the egg for them. Which one comes first?”
For low-income individuals who are living with HIV/AIDs, not being able to qualify for government funding is even more troubling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the estimated lifetime cost of treating HIV is $379,668. With the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a full-time minimum wage employee making the federal wage only earns $15,080 annually, not even half the cost of treating HIV annually.
Fortunately for individuals who have limited access to health care, there are places like Rain that specialize in helping people at risk for, or infected with, STDs and other potentially life-threatening diseases.
With the help of funding from Ryan White Health Care, Rain has spent the last 25 years helping people with HIV/AIDS get affordable health care.
“Many more people that have HIV/AIDs are able to be insured now, but there are many people who fall through the cracks,” said Mitchell. “For those that are HIV positive, by utilizing federal dollars, we sent them to doctors and help them get proper treatment.“
For people with HIV/AIDs and other potentially-life threatening diseases, not being able to get proper health care can be detrimental to their health.
“It doesn’t help that there is so much stigma attached with the disease,” Mitchell said. “Ninety-five percent of people with HIV come to Columbia to receive health care because they are afraid that someone will find out that they are HIV-positive.”
As a result, Rain is lowering the number of uninsured HIV/AIDs individuals in the Mid-Missouri area. Rain reports that they serve just over 400 individuals in a typical year.
“Income is a barrier to a lot of things,” Mitchell said. “The amount of effort is certainly more, but it’s not impossible to help them.”