Why do the uninsured want to stay uninsured? They won’t say

Why do the uninsured want to stay uninsured? They won’t say

42
SHARE

Picture 3 Two uninsured people who insist on their right to remain uninsured have joined 20 states and the National Federation of Independent Business in suing to overturn the new federal law requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance or else pay a tax penalty.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., claims the government is exceeding its constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce.

The states added the two individuals as plaintiffs because the government is likely to argue that the states lack legal standing to challenge the individual insurance mandate, given that it only affects individuals, not the states.

But the public can’t find out why the two new individual plaintiffs — an auto repair shop owner in Panama City, Fla. and a retired lawyer/Wall Street banker living in Port Angeles, Wa. – oppose the insurance requirement because the lawyer spearheading the suit says they aren’t speaking to the news media.

I particularly wanted to know how these two uninsured people have paid for health care for themselves and their families in the past and how they plan to pay for it in the future. So I asked David Rivkin, a partner at Baker Hostetler in Washington, D.C., who is representing them and the NFIB and serves as outside counsel for the states, if he could put me in touch with them.

“They aren’t public persons and don’t want to give up their privacy,” said Rivkin. He did say they are both around 50 years old – an age when most Americans are anxious to have good health insurance. That made me even more curious about their motives for joining the suit. I also found it funny that two people jumping into one of the country’s biggest political controversies expect to maintain their privacy.

Rivkin’s privacy claim may or may not be true for Mary Brown, the repair shop owner. She initially told me in a brief conversation that the attorneys didn’t want her to talk to the media. Then, after calling Rivkin’s office, she called back and said she’s so busy with her business that she doesn’t have time to talk to reporters. She very courteously indicated she actually would like to talk to me, perhaps at a later date.

But the assertion of privacy doesn’t seem to fit Kaj Ahlburg, a Harvard University law graduate and Clallam County Republican Party leader who recently was appointed to the Harbor-Works Development Authority board in Port Angeles.

Described by Rivkin as a “person of means,” Ahlburg is no shrinking violet. He’s often quoted in the local press commenting on controversial issues such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s eminent domain ruling in Kelo v. New London. And he recently has given public talks on the Islamic religion and on al Qaeda. In December, he spoke to a county GOP gathering on how to mitigate the threat of electromagnetic pulses caused by nuclear explosions high above the atmosphere. Hmm, who knew?

According to an announcement advertising Ahlburg’s January 2009 al Qaeda speech at the Bremerton-Olympic Peninsula Navy League, Ahlburg practiced law and investment banking for 19 years in New York City, is a member of the International Assn. for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals, and watched the Sept. 11 attacks from his office window in Manhattan.

Still, the normally outspoken Ahlburg did not return my two calls to his home.

Based on his background and interests, Ahlburg is obviously a man who values liberty. But he apparently has the financial means to maintain his freedom from health insurance. “He’s been paying his own way any time he incurs medical expenses,” Rivkin said. “He’s done that for years. His health care footprint is zero, and he has no desire to buy health insurance.”

Brown must be an even more freedom-loving person, because she does not seem to have the resources to pay for costly medical care out of pocket.

According to NFIB spokeswoman Melissa Sharp, Brown has co-owned the Brown & Dockery auto repair shop for four years and is “struggling to keep the doors open.” She does not have health insurance for herself and doesn’t provide it to her two employees. Brown has two daughters and two step-daughters; Sharp said she didn’t know the ages of Brown’s children or whether they have any health coverage.

“She’s adamantly opposed to the government telling her she has to buy coverage,” Sharp said.

Rivkin said, “I wouldn’t care to speculate about what she’d do if she became ill. That’s how she chooses to lead her life. There are certainly people who believe that given their current circumstances and health, it is prudent for them to defer getting coverage until some point in time in the future.”

When I asked Brown herself how she pays for health care for herself and her children, she said she gave all that information to the Baker Hostetler lawyers and that I should ask them.

While Rivkin argues that Brown’s and Ahlburg’s personal circumstances are irrelevant to the legal case, Washington & Lee University law professor Timothy Jost says those facts eventually will be highly relevant. “The judge will certainly want to know a lot more about their circumstances,” said Jost, who has written extensively about health reform.

But, he said, the individual plaintiffs’ personal circumstances will only matter in 2015, when the tax penalty applies to those who don’t obtain health insurance. Until then, he said, the lawsuit is not ripe because there is no actual injury. Thus, the courts lack jurisdiction. He predicts the courts will toss the case on that basis.

Of course, by 2015 Brown and Ahlburg may have changed their minds and gotten health coverage. After all, under the new reform law, insurers won’t be able to turn away people in their 50s with preexisting conditions, and there will be sizable subsidies for small business owners like Brown. If that happens, then the states and the NFIB would have to look for some new plaintiffs who demand freedom from health insurance.

Harris
Meyer is a journalist based in Yakima, Wash., and winner of the Gerald Loeb
Award.  He has over 27 years of reporting experience for law and health
care publications, alternative newsweeklies and television news.

Leave a Reply

42 Comments on "Why do the uninsured want to stay uninsured? They won’t say"


Guest
Jun 1, 2010

Thanks for letting us know about what information is available, I haven’t seen much on this subject. Certainly I think more about these individuals will be of interest and eventually come to light, but I’m not surprised they wouldn’t speak to a reporter. Most people involved in legal proceedings are advised not to before appearing in court.
I can’t speak for the people in question, since this is the first source I’ve read to even report their names. However, my parents were once friends with a family of dairy farmers who would buy an extra cow each year instead of health insurance. This cow would contribute to the family’s income on a regular basis, but could also be sold when and if there were expensive medical bills to pay.
Obviously this practice would not work for everyone, and should not be interpreted as a conclusive argument on either side of the debate. I merely offer the aside as one potential answer to the question of why an uninsured individual might not want to be insured.

Guest
MD as HELL
Jun 1, 2010

They don’t want to be insured. Period. Only a blind liberal do-gooder needs an explanation. People want to be left alone. How they pay for healthcare is their business. Period.
They want the government to get out of their private lives. What is so hard to understand about that. If the court does not hear the case then they are allowing an injury to occur instead of preventing one.

Guest
J Taylor
Jun 1, 2010

I agree with MD as HELL, they don’t want to be insured. That’s the end of our agreement, however. They don’t appear to take issue with, for example, the state of Florida’s requirement to purchase car insurance (I don’t find it a far stretch to assume these two people drive), which makes the “why” all that more of an interesting question. I suspect at the bottom of it all is the need to rebel against MD’s “liberal do-gooders” as opposed to a rational argument of much substance. Otherwise, the conservative movement would not be attempting to legislatively people’s reproductive and marital choices.

Guest
Harris Meyer
Jun 1, 2010

If Mary Brown and Kaj Ahlburg wanted to be left alone, a la Garbo, and that choice did not have any consequences for the rest of us who (fortunately) have health insurance, then we could say, “Be as free as you want.” But as President Obama and many others have pointed out, Brown’s and Ahlburg’s demand to remain uninsured does have consequences for the rest of us. If we as a society were willing to stand by and let them die of a heart attack or of injuries from a car accident rather than guaranteeing them emergency medical care at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, then they would face the responsibility for their own decision. But we as a society are not willing to do that, thank God. Does MD as Hell think we ought to let them die if they have no insurance and can’t afford the care? Speak up. Otherwise, the freedom to go without health insurance comes at the expense of the rest of us, and that’s not a libertarian value.

Guest
Diogenes
Jun 1, 2010

CORRECTION
“Harris Meyer is a journalist ..”
No, he’s not.
He’s a politician (D). He’s taking a political position — for OWE-bama (D). That’s obvious to anyone who can think clearly.
Mr. Meyer (D) and OWE-bama (D) think they are leaders.
Well, many do not think so. And we have rights, too.

Guest
bev M.D.
Jun 1, 2010

MD as HELL, you are the one who will be continuing to have to treat those who want to be uninsured free, under EMTALA, when they show up in your ER. Be careful what you wish for.
As for J.Taylor, I think he/she has made an important point:
” Otherwise, the conservative movement would not be attempting to legislatively (sic) people’s reproductive and marital choices.”
I have found it laughable that the repubs think it just terrible to mandate individual health insurance, but want to “promote marriage” and bring back all the old blame games in divorces, which will only enrich the lawyers.
I am an independent, but my personal mantra is, the democrats want to control your $$, but the repubs want to control your LIFE. Me, I’ll take the former, thanks.

Guest
Mark Spohr
Jun 1, 2010

I don’t want to buy health insurance until I get sick.
I don’t want to buy fire insurance until I have a fire.
I don’t want to buy car insurance until I have an accident.
I don’t want to buy life insurance until I die.
I don’t want to buy flood insurance until it floods.
I don’t want to pay for police unless I have a robber in the house.
WAAAAHHHHH! I’m a baby who won’t accept responsibility.
Keep the government out of my life (until I need help).

Guest
MD as HELL
Jun 1, 2010

If the government gets out of my life I won’t need any help.
You don’t have to buy car insurance if you don’t have a car.
Mark has it correct in reverse: No one should be able to buy coverage for something that has already happened. With what was Congress thinking?
bevMD is losing it. The dems are controlling lives. The repubs, far from perfect, want smaller government and less of it in your house.
There is no rational argument for forcing people to buy something they do not want. No one forces you to buy a car, whichyou are required to insure to receive a license plate. Your Haldol is ready.

Guest

I agree MD as HELL. We shouldn’t force them to buy something they do not want. We should only make them pay enough taxes to cover their inevitable health care needs. Needs which most folks cannot simply write a check for (you and the rich guy in the story above are a very small minority).
Individuals have rights of course, but ripping off the remainder of society is not one of them, if I recall correctly.

Guest
Harris Meyer
Jun 2, 2010

MD as Hell never answered my question. Do you want to leave them to die? That’s the only consistent position if you insist that Mary Brown and Kaj Ahlburg have the right not to buy health insurance (or pay taxes to cover their inevitable health care needs, as Margalit notes). I want to hear your answer.

Guest
bev M.D.
Jun 2, 2010

MD as HELL did not answer your question, Harris, because there is no answer consistent with his philosophy except “yes.”
Sorry, MD, I misspoke a bit above. What the repubs really want to control is everyone’s thought.

Guest
Diogenes
Jun 2, 2010

THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
” .. MD as Hell never answered my question. Do you want to leave them to die?”
Dear Mr. OWE-bama-supporter (D),
Well, gee — why not just throw open the borders and give trillions of FREE medical care to every charity case —
http://bit.ly/927STV
“A 17-month-old girl underwent surgery for a rare heart defect at UCSF on Thursday as her parents received good news: Their scheduled deportation to their native Mexico has been postponed for a year ..”
FACT: as much as 40% of USA medical bills are due to SMOKING, DOPE, BOOZE, over-eating, and “extreme living.”
If the dopers, boozers, et. al just STOPPED their STUPIDITY — that would pay for 10 (ten) “reforms!”
Has OWE-bama stopped smoking? NO!
Want to save the world, Mr. OWE-bama supporter (D)?
Get the Kennedys (D) to disgorge their $3,000,000,000.00 in BOOZE profits first. Then, get back to us. Peace!

Guest
Vikram C
Jun 2, 2010

Diogenes,
I didn’t know 40% of USA medical bills was due to flawed lifestyles. Have any link to explain that in more detail?
Do you also include meat and processed food culture as part of that? After all majority of diseases germinate in animal farms.

Guest
Paolo
Jun 2, 2010

The government already forces you to buy unemployment insurance. They also force you to buy social security insurance. They force you to buy medicare insurance. They force you to pay for your children’s education (whether you use it or not). They force you to pay for your police and fire protection.
Forcing you to buy health insurance is no different. You may not like it, and have all the right to vote against it. But saying that the government doesn’t have the right to make you pay for something is absurd. The government does it all the time and has been doing it since the beginning of the industrial age. No sane court would overturn this and send us back to the pre-industrial era.

Guest
anon
Jun 2, 2010

MD as HELL: “You don’t have to buy car insurance if you don’t have a car.”
Therefore, you don’t have to buy health insurance if you don’t have health?!
Heh.