By CARLA K. JOHNSON and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — A father lost his job at a medical device company that is facing a new tax. A young woman got back on her parents' insurance and was able to get surgery for an injury that could have hobbled her. A part-time sales woman stopped putting off a colonoscopy and cancer screenings and saved nearly $3,000 because health plans now must pay for preventive care without co-pays. A business owner received a tax rebate for providing health coverage to her employees.
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, The Associated Press spoke with a variety of people to hear their experiences so far with the landmark legislation, whose major provisions don't take effect until 2014. Reporters asked: How has the health care law affected your life?
Here are snapshots of seven Americans:
Name: Michael Esch
Home: Warwick, N.Y.
Occupation: Former middle manager for medical device company, now working as a hospital purchasing agent.
Insurance coverage: Paying out of his own pocket for COBRA insurance through his former company.
Esch, a father of three, lost his job in November in a layoff his employer said resulted from President Barack Obama's health care law. Medical device maker Stryker Corp. announced in November it intended to lay off 1,000 workers worldwide to save money ahead of a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that starts in 2013.
The tax on medical devices is meant to help pay for expanding health coverage to uninsured Americans. The Obama administration argues device companies will gain in the long run as more patients become eligible to receive their products because they have insurance.
Esch was a middle manager who had worked for Stryker for six years. He helped develop a product known as the Triathlon Knee. Since the layoff, he's taken a salary cut to work as a hospital purchasing agent. He's still looking for a job with another medical device company.
He blames the medical device tax for the loss of his job, but he's grateful for the provision in the health care law that will allow his oldest child, now a college sophomore, to stay on his health insurance to age 26.
"We tend to forget that for every great idea there is a ripple effect through other sectors of a business," Esch said.
Economists say most companies should be able to pass on the bulk of the tax to customers, but the industry says it will squeeze profits and chill investment, hiring and innovation.
Name: Glenn Nishimura
Home: Little Rock, Ark.
Occupation: Consultant to nonprofit groups.
Insurance coverage: Uninsured since COBRA coverage from a previous job expired in May of 2009.
Nishimura has been uninsured for nearly three years. He lost his health coverage after he left a full-time position with benefits in 2007, thinking he could land another good job. The recession destroyed that plan.
He's been denied coverage because of high blood pressure and high blood-sugar levels. A provision in the national health care law gave his state $46 million to insure people like him who've been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
But Nishimura said he can't afford the coverage. It would cost him about $6,300 a year in premiums with a $1,000 deductible, meaning he would pay the first $1,000 out of his own pocket before coverage kicks in.
He worries about suffering injuries in a car accident or falling ill before he's eligible for Medicare at age 65.
"I don't like feeling vulnerable like this," Nishimura said. "I'm completely vulnerable to some catastrophic problem."
Nationally, about 50,000 people with pre-existing conditions have signed up for the coverage available through the health care law, fewer than expected. The government has offered new options to encourage more to enroll. In another two years, he may be eligible for subsidies under the law for insurance.
Name: Samantha Ames
Home: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Law student
Insurance coverage: Got back on parents' insurance, thanks to the health care law.
As a teenager, Ames was prone to ankle injuries playing catcher on baseball and softball teams. Last April, she tripped over her mini bulldog and badly injured her left ankle. Ultimately she needed surgery that cost her insurer $30,000.