Liz Barnett stood in line, desperate and scared — scared for herself, her children and her bank account.
Strange what losing health insurance can do to one’s self-confidence.
Barnett is a member of a new breed of Coloradans, middle-class, with employer-underwritten health benefits, who suddenly lose their jobs and watch the dominoes fall.
Her story has a semi-happy ending, though. She found insurance for her children, though not for herself.
“It was an enormous worry,” recalled the single mother, who lost her job as an executive assistant at an Aurora hospital. “It would have been catastrophic if something had happened to one of my kids.”
So Barnett went to a health fair in metro Denver, where uninsured people could see what kind of coverage they might be eligible for. She found coverage for both her children, Alec, 15, and Sydney, 5. With her income down from being unemployed, she qualified to enroll them in a government-subsidized health insurance program, called Children’s Health Plan Plus.
Her son qualified quickly. But “they had a glitch with my daughter, who is from Kazakhstan,” Barnett said. “I didn’t have her birth certificate or proof of citizenship with me.” She rounded them up, brought them to a county processing site and, a couple months later, breathed an exuberant sigh when her daughter’s coverage was approved.
But in the intervening two months, her daughter had developed a rash on her face. Barnett made the costly decision to bring her child to the emergency room. The hospital presented her with a bill of several hundred dollars, even though her daughter needed only antibiotics.
However, Barnett had already applied for CHP, and Sydney was approved for it later. “Her eligibility was retroactive to when I first applied – provided she eventually was ruled eligible,” the mother said. So the bill was covered by the CHP insurance.
Now, Barnett only has to worry about herself. As an adult, she would have to have far less income to qualify for free health care through Medicaid. So far, she has been unable to find private insurance at a price she can afford.
She developed cancer some 15 years ago and is always worried about a recurrence.
If the cancer comes back soon, before she can find another job, “I would probably have a huge medical bill that I’d have to pay off for the rest of my life,” she said.
Still, her kids are the world to her, and to have two-thirds of her worries alleviated is a godsend.
“I’ve decided to become a nurse,” Barnett said, noting that nursing is one of the few professions that almost guarantees full employment. “That way, I’ll never be without health insurance the rest of my life.”