In this week's issue, Peter Goodman and Jeffrey Young look at the 49 million Americans who lack health insurance, "a crowded group that no one chooses to join." And as the time nears when Obamacare will finally go into effect, Goodman and Young tell the stories of several Americans who would benefit from it -- and who are struggling under the current system. These stories, while unique, all share one quality: a vicious cycle of unmet medical needs, worry and financial strain. As one health care expert puts it, "We have a health care system that has the best medical science in the world that delivers third-world health care to the vast majority of our population."
There's Laura Johnson, who was deemed too well-off by the state of Louisiana to receive Medicaid, but who is also unable to afford $200 a month for the prescription drugs to treat her high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. So she simply doesn't take her pills on a regular basis, opting instead for what Goodman and Young call "a self-written prescription: home remedies, prayer and denial."
And Dianne Laird, who lost her job -- and her health insurance -- at the same time her husband's kayak rental company shut down. These losses paved the way for more setbacks: they scraped by on their unemployment benefits, they sold their house, Dianne got a part-time job that paid even less than unemployment. And though they are poor by the federal standard, there is no safety net to provide them with health insurance. As Dianne put it, "If something happens, then I'm going to have to deal with it."
Elsewhere in the issue, Radley Balko writes about a Mississippi cold case -- part real-life murder mystery, part exposé of the state's justice system. The crime is the gruesome 1997 murder of 39-year-old Kathy Mabry. The town is Belzoni, Miss., a place rooted in Civil Rights-era racial turmoil, and which today is home to the World Catfish Festival and the "Miss Catfish" pageant. This is the part of the state that produced great bluesmen like Sonny Boy Williamson and Elmore James. Balko introduces us to characters that could have sprung from a Mississippi murder ballad: J.D. "Bubba" Roseman, the county's first black sheriff; Steven Hayne, a cigar-smoking medical examiner who performed autopsies in the basement of a local funeral home; Michael West, a dentist and self-proclaimed bite-mark expert who assisted on, and sometimes videotaped, those autopsies; and Julie Mae Wilson, the mother of the victim, who spent most of her life working in cotton fields.
After 15 years the case remained unsolved, and lawyers from the Mississippi Innocence Project began to investigate. Their scrutiny raised questions about the state's justice system and prompted criticisms that Mississippi officials were more interested in defending themselves than solving the case -- and preventing future crimes. Roseman, the sheriff, is among the critics; as he puts it, "Good people live here. They deserve to feel safe. I took it personal."
This story appears in Issue 34 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Feb. 1.