Faces of the Uninsured: “It’s … Food or Health Care”

Christy Johnson

Bonnie Campo

Name: Christy Johnson
Age: 38
Location: Oklahoma City
Occupation: long-distance customer service rep
Estimated 2014 income: $18,720
Estimated silver plan premium: $ 188 per month
Estimated bronze plan premium: $130 per month

Christy Johnson is mildly anemic, but she puts up with it.

She hasn’t had health insurance for the past four years. She stays away from doctors and clinics because money is tight, and she’d rather buy food than medicine.

Johnson, 38, is a single mom. Her 13-year-old daughter is covered by Oklahoma’s SoonerCare program, but Johnson makes too much to qualify.


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Johnson works full-time for $9 an hour as a customer service representative for a small telecommunications provider. Her employer doesn’t provide health insurance.

She hasn’t shopped around for insurance because she figures it’s out of reach financially.

“I don’t know why it’s so expensive,” Johnson said. “It becomes a problem, because it’s either food or health care.”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Johnson should be able to buy a “silver”-level health plan in the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace next year at a net cost of $188 a month, after tax credits are taken into account. A less-generous “bronze” plan would cost her $130.

Because she is a smoker, Johnson would pay more than a non-smoker for her coverage. According to Kaiser, a non-smoker with the same income, age and family status would pay only $31 a month for a silver plan and $0 for a bronze plan, after tax credits.

Either type of plan would require her to make modest co-payments for prescription drugs and routine physician care. The plans would have relatively high deductibles, though, so she could wind up picking up much of the tab for some medical services.

If Johnson chose a silver plan, she would also qualify for additional federal cost-sharing subsidies that would further reduce her health care expenses.

She might be able to get an even better deal. Johnson could qualify for Insure Oklahoma, a separate, state-run program available to working people who satisfy certain income and employment criteria. If she does, her monthly premium would be $62. It’s unclear, however, if Insure Oklahoma will continue after 2014.

Johnson said the last time she received any kind of medical care was in 2011, after she fainted one day because of her anemia and went to an emergency room.

Since then, she’s been lucky. Other than occasional illnesses, she’s been able to hold her medical expenses to essentially nothing.

“I never go to the doctor,” she said.

Johnson said she doesn’t think she could afford to spend more than $75 a month for health insurance, and she assumed nothing was available in that range.

She said she wasn’t sure whether she would consider enrolling in the Obamacare health marketplace. For the most part, she said, she’s been willing to do without health insurance and take her chances.

“I do worry about it sometimes,” she acknowledged. “Sometimes, when I’m not feeling good…”

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