It was late September, and Travis George, a 27-year-old Waynesville resident, was almost done mowing his grandmother’s yard. With just five minutes left, his foot accidentally slipped right under the mower, chopping off three of his toes and part of his foot.
George was rushed to Mission Hospital in Asheville, where doctors performed surgery and cleaned up the gaping wound. A month later, George had to undergo skin graft surgery.
George was able to get Medicaid to pay much of the $30,000 bill, and he received about $1,000 from his grandmother’s homeowner’s insurance, but $7,000 must come out of his own pockets.
Unfortunately, George has not been able to find a new job after being laid off from his job as land surveyor last Christmas.
Now he’s caught in the middle. George no longer qualifies for unemployment, since he is no longer able to work. Yet he cannot receive disability benefits because he will be able to return to work in less than a year.
“Ever since I got hurt, I have no income,” said George.
George said he almost didn’t qualify for Medicaid because of his wife’s income as a bank employee. While her health insurance covers their two children, George said adding him to the policy would result in outrageous costs.
“She would end up paying more for our family’s insurance than she would take home,” said George “It’s unreal.”
For George, the problem with the health care industry is tied to the greed of insurance companies. Despite taxpayers picking up the tab for part of his medical bill, George said the government should not be responsible for everyone’s health care.
George supports opening up competition among insurance companies across state lines to lower prices instead.
“I don’t think the government should make everybody pay,” said George. “I had a terrible accident, trying to get help as I can, but the rest of it I’m responsible for. That’s the way it should be.”
Two Waynesville companies recently decided to assist George by holding a chilly cook-off fundraiser to raise donations for his $7,000 payment.
“That’s helped out a little bit,” said George. “Other than that, I don’t know how I’m going to pay that balance.”
Bridget Nelson, 40, graduate student at Western North Carolina
Nelson was required to get health insurance after enrolling at WCU though she said not having insurance previously didn’t bother her.
“I view insurance companies as legalized organized crime.”
Nelson considers herself a healthy individual who would probably only use health insurance for medical emergencies.
While working for a nonprofit, she once faced the awkward situation of receiving good insurance coverage through her employer but being unable to extend that coverage to her two children. Nelson eventually acquired Medicaid benefits for her kids, which helped cover costs when her daughter broke her arm.
In Nelson’s view, health care reform should be a national priority. She said a single payer system would make more economic sense than the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’ve spent trillions on apparently useless wars, so if you’re willing to spend on that but not health care, there’s a priority problem.”
Amy Tucker, 24, server at Ryan’s Family Steak House in Sylva
Tucker is on her father’s company health insurance policy but has a $5,000 deductible, which means she usually pays for “pretty much everything.”
Tucker says she is against the health care bill. “I don’t think that it should be free for everyone,” said Tucker, “[But] everyone should have some kind of coverage.”
Tucker said she’s more in favor of an assistance program than universal health care.
Sunshine Cochran, 33, server at Ryan’s Family Steak House in Sylva
Cochran is considering buying health insurance through her job, but as of now, she has none. She said the health insurance rates through Ryan’s are pretty reasonable. “I just gotta make sure it fits my budget.”
Cochran has received Medicaid benefits when she was pregnant with her five kids, who are all on Medicaid now. But she is still paying off a $15,000 debt she incurred after breaking her arm in a car racing accident.
Cochran was able to pay the $900 upfront cost, but she hopes to avoid landing in the same situation in the future.
“I try to stay away from getting hurt.”
Kirk Childress, 22, manager of Black Rock Outdoor Company in Sylva
Childress will soon get a monthly allowance for health insurance after being promoted to manager at the store. Before that, however, Childress did not have health insurance of any kind. For Childress, the choice was between paying for health insurance or paying for a car. He chose the car.
“I’ve always been healthy. I’ve never had a problem.”
Childress says his approach to health care has been more reactive than pro-active. He once had a serious spider bite that needed to be treated. A friend’s father, who happened to be a doctor, was able to call in a prescription for antibiotics to take care of it.
Childress said those who cannot afford health care should be given the minimum for family doctor visits and emergencies, but he said most people should purchase health care for themselves.
Sheryl Rudd, 49, and Dieter Kuhn, 54, co-owners of Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva
Rudd and Kuhn choose not to pay for health insurance, relying on natural medicine and wellness instead. They had been paying monthly premiums for a policy with a $5,000 deductible but decided to drop the insurance.
“Nothing was being covered,” said Rudd, adding that the insurance company would not help pay for her to see her preferred doctor.
Kuhn admits that not having health insurance places more responsibility on the individual to stay well and handle any resulting financial responsibilities.
When it comes to health care reform, Rudd said she is not in favor of placing more burdens on businesses through regulations.
“That’s not fair,” said Rudd. “That takes my choice away.”
Instead, Rudd would like to see everyone in the country get the same health insurance that Congress receives.
“But what they’re proposing, I’m against,” said Rudd.