CASPER, Wyo. — Sarah Campbell put off the doctor’s visit as long as she could.
The 51-year-old Natrona County woman hurt herself in March while riding a horse. Without any health insurance, she tried toughing it out for a time.
“At first I didn’t go in because I couldn’t afford it,” Campbell said. “Then I had to because the pain was unbearable.”
She visited her usual health care provider, who sent her to the emergency room. Doctors there checked her for appendicitis and a hernia before finally diagnosing her with a pulled groin muscle. The medical bill came to nearly $3,000.
Campbell owns a Mills dog grooming business. She can’t rely on an employer for insurance, and doesn’t earn enough to buy her own coverage. She paid what she could, but that set her back on other expenses.
“I didn’t pay the electricity bill for a while,” she said.
The architects of the Affordable Care Act intend for it to help people like Campbell. The law establishes insurance marketplaces where consumers can purchase subsidized health plans, regardless of whether they’ve been sick or injured in the past. The marketplaces begin enrollment Tuesday.
But many Wyomingites, including Campbell, view the law with a mixture of suspicion and concern. She’s not familiar with the marketplaces, but she knows one part of the law will require most Americans to possess insurance beginning Jan. 1 or pay a penalty.
“I can’t afford insurance, but they are going to take my money that I worked my butt off (for),” she said. “And they are going to take it, and what are they going to do? Are they going to give me insurance when they take my money?”
Campbell, who’s groomed dogs for 38 years, said she sometimes worries about becoming seriously ill and having no way to pay for care. But the cost of insurance is simply out of reach.
“What do I do?” she asked. “Just lose everything we own.”
When she’s sick, Campbell goes to the University of Wyoming’s Family Medicine Residency Program in Casper, which offers a sliding scale to patients who qualify. She’ll also visit an urgent-care center. Better there than an expensive emergency room, she said.
Supporters of the health care law insist everyone will benefit from insuring more people. The uninsured won’t face the prospect of bankruptcy if they suffer a major medical emergency. They won’t get as sick since they’ll be receiving preventive exams to catch problems before they grow out of control.
But reform backers will have to convince people that insurance is worth the often steep price. Campbell had bad experiences in the past getting insurance money when her family needed help.
“You pay for it, and you pay for it, and you pay for it, and you get nothing out of it,” she said.
Government needs to stay out of people’s business, Campbell said. That, or spend time considering the concerns of working people, rather than undermining them.
“We can’t afford a lot … but we work hard,” she said. “We work hard for what we have.”