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Patients pay more, get less - if they're lucky

Ineligible for group insurance, millions buy pricey individual policies. Many can't get (or keep) those.

October 21, 2008|Lisa Girion and Michael A. Hiltzik | Girion and Hiltzik are Times staff writers.

The Koerners sell gifts and custom T-shirts at fairs and street festivals in northeastern Pennsylvania and in their store, Cosmos Crystal Shop, in Carbondale.

"We've been lucky playing the Russian roulette game with not having any health insurance and basically trying to be as careful as you can," Peter Koerner said.

One day about two years ago, he was using a hydraulic splitter to replenish the wood pile that heats their home. Something slipped. His left thumb was severed.

He tried to stop the bleeding with rubber bands, packed the amputated digit in ice to "increase my chances of reattachment" and got a neighbor to drive him to the local hospital.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, October 24, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Health insurance: An article in Tuesday's Section A about the nation's health insurance crisis said that nearly 46 million Americans have no medical coverage. The figure is a Census Bureau estimate of the number of U.S. residents without insurance; not all are American citizens.

Doctors in the emergency room cleaned and stitched the wound, but he would have to be airlifted to a bigger hospital for reattachment surgery.

Koerner loves working with his hands. He is a trained goldsmith and silversmith, repairs his car and enjoys sculpting. He knew he would miss his thumb. But there were "too many other bills to pay."

He left his thumb at the hospital.

"It was plain a matter of economics," Koerner said. "I knew I could live without it."



Shedding risk

Three stories on the nation's health insurance crisis:


Individual policies, often the only coverage available, are pricey and precarious.


Seeking distance from medical risk, insurers branch out into banking.


The battle of the bills -- doctors and hospitals fight insurers for their pay.

-- /insurance

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