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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

Workers Lacking Health Insurance Need a Fair Deal

June 22, 2002|MARTA ZAMORA | Marta Zamora lives in Corona.

What's wrong with this picture? I make $25,000 a year working for a small company that sells party supplies, and I cannot afford health insurance for my family. U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, makes at least $145,000 a year in salary--and is worth millions personally--and he gets tax-free health insurance through the federal government.

But Rockefeller--who favors universal health insurance through a government-run system--is blocking a bill in the Senate that would provide a tax credit for people like me to purchase affordable health insurance.

It would be funny if it weren't so absurd. It would be funny if it weren't so crucial for me, like 39 million other Americans, to insure my family.

Rockefeller is blocking a bill that is supported by members of both parties in both houses of Congress. In the Senate, his colleagues Zell Miller (Ga.) and Robert Torricelli (N.J.) are the lead Democratic co-sponsors of the bill, along with Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). In the House of Representatives, there are 17 Democratic co-sponsors of the same legislation.

The bill, the Fair Care for the Uninsured Act, has broad appeal, crossing party, regional and ethnic lines.

It is especially popular among minorities, because minorities make up a disproportionately high percentage of uninsured people in this country.

I happen to be Latino, and according to the U.S. Census, Latinos are the largest minority group of uninsured people--one out of every three Latinos is uninsured. About one out of every five African Americans is uninsured as well.

Fair Care provides up to $3,000 for families that do not receive health insurance through their employers. It's called Fair Care because it promotes health-care equity by providing benefits to low- and middle-income uninsured workers.

It would permit millions of Latinos and other minorities to have access to preventive and routine health care and avoid costly emergency room visits like the one I had last year.

I spent four hours in the emergency room of a local hospital. A prescription and two medications later, the hospital charged me more than $7,700.

Now I avoid the health care system because I am afraid of the cost. It was actually cheaper for me to fly to Mexico to see a holistic doctor.

If I had had health insurance, I could have seen a mainstream doctor rather than choosing between Mexico and the emergency room.

Some critics may charge that $3,000 is not enough money to insure a family for a year. They would be wrong. Here in Southern California, I can buy health insurance for my family for $204 a month. Fair Care provides $250 a month for a family, so I would have enough money to cover the entire cost of health insurance.

Fair Care is an excellent way to provide access to affordable health insurance for millions of families.

President Bush has provided tens of billions of dollars in his budget for Fair Care. One millionaire senator shouldn't be able to deprive millions of working families the same access to care that he enjoys.

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