The insurance industry-planted extremists who have been trying to disrupt health care reform should talk to Jim from St. James, Missouri. Jim's not a paid activist. He's not a spin doctor. He's just a hard-working guy from middle America. And Jim is exactly the kind of person that health insurance reform will help.
Jim works full-time as a truck driver for St. James Ready-Mix in St. James, Missouri. He takes home about $400 a week after taxes, which is enough to get by on in rural, eastern Missouri, but not enough to pay for health care for his family. And in Jim's family, like families across the United States, the lack of affordable, quality health insurance is devastating.
Jim could get health insurance from his employer but the cost, recently lowered to $369 per month, is more than Jim's monthly rent. And he has two teenage kids, a cat and a dog, a long commute to work with the high cost of gas, not to mention food to put on the table, school supplies and clothes, etc. As a single parent, Jim says it's near impossible to make ends meet.
All of which would be hard enough. But Jim's daughter Tabitha has kidney disease. They already pay out of pocket for her medicine, which is expensive but, considering how much they would pay in prescription co-pays even if they had insurance, still less than if Tabitha were insured. Still, Jim and his daughter worry about what might happen if Tabitha got sick. Jim is a hard-working father forced to gamble with his family's well-being because our health insurance system puts big profits ahead of our health care needs.
Jim is like many of us sandwiched in the middle. He earns more than the average person in his town (the per capita income for St. James was $14,509 in 2000 -- after taxes). But even though Jim is by no means rich, he still earns too much to qualify for subsidized insurance programs like the State Children's Health Insurance Program. "I tried," Jim says.
Health insurance reform will help the millions of Americans without jobs or access to any health insurance options. But it will also help even more Americans like Jim, who are paying for insurance that's making them broke or have access to insurance but just can't afford it. Creating a competitive and regulated health insurance market, including a public health insurance option, will hold the insurance corporations accountable and drive down the cost of coverage for everyone while improving care, too.
Jim didn't vote for President Obama. But, he now says, "If he did something about health care reform... Well, I'd sure shake his hand." While partisan bickering divides Washington, average Americans like Jim are putting partisanship aside because they need help. "And if government can help, they should help," says Jim.
Jim is like so many Americans, who every morning they wake up, work hard to make our nation strong and prosperous. But every night, so many people like Jim go to sleep worrying about the risks and dangers the next day might hold. "This is a great country I live in," Jim told me. "I just hope I can make it better." Let's hope our great country can help make Jim's life better, too.
Find more stories like Jim's at the Health Care Reform for the Heartland website: www.statefairstories.org.