1 in 6 in recession without health insurance

By Victoria

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- If you were lucky and didn't lose your job, what did you have do give up because of the recession? Was it eating out? Maybe you pulled the plug on cable television. Small business owners Mitch and Ronda Perry said goodbye to health insurance.

The Perry's own a cleaning business. When the recession hit, it wiped out what little money they had left.

"I mean literally, it's month-to-month, and you now you hope for the best," Mitch said.

What Mitch hopes, is nothing more goes wrong with his neck. He's been having problems from a car accident years ago, specifically pain and numbness in his arm. He needs surgery, but he says financially, it's out of the question.

"There are some tests that I actually refuse right there, blood tests they're taking because they cost one, two, three hundred dollars and I just can't afford it," he said.

His wife Ronda foregoes yearly mammograms, and just hopes the kids don't get sick.

"If he comes down stairs and says, 'Mom I don't feel good, I'm running a fever,' I think of my son first. But then, I think 'do I have the money in my checking account to take him to the doctor.' That's the reality of where we are," Ronda said.

That's the reality for many American families. At least one in six does not have health insurance. Nearly 50 million families go without.

Consider the cost. It's no wonder. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the average cost for a family policy is more than $13,000. The average family income is $46,000 in a home where one person works, $67,000 if both have jobs.

That reality is why local surgeon Dr. Casey Fitts gave up his practice for a year, to start the nonprofit TriCounty Project Care.

"It's getting worse everyday," Dr. Fitts said.

"I can't tell you how many patients I see every single week, patients I've been seeing for a while saying 'Doc, man, my job doesn't offer insurance anymore, I can't afford to do this, what can I do?'"

Even if Dr. Fitts agrees to perform the surgery for free, he has to get the hospital involved, the anesthesiologist, and sometimes a pharmaceutical company.

The idea of the nonprofit was to build a pool of these resources, along with donations, and payments from those patients who can afford to give something.

"This group of patients are hard-working people who are out there trying to do their best. They're not looking for a hand out. They're just looking for some help," Dr. Fitts said.

That was 10 years ago. Dr. Fitts had to resume his practice, but continues to run the nonprofit as well. He was recently honored with the 2011 Healthcare Transformation Award. It recognizes leaders involved in developing innovative community healthcare programs.

But it's not accolades the doctor's after, but action. His passion for people comes across in his eyes. He tears up as he talks about the senselessness of it all.

"I just hate to see what's going on. You can't just sit there and look at it, you got to try to do something about it," he said.

Something so simple, so basic, our health. Should it be out of reach? Or should it be available for all?

"Health insurance to me is kind of the, it's the brass ring I don't know that we can actually grab it," said Ronda Perry.

"To get healthcare, it's all about the money," said Mitch Perry. "They got to label it and you they want to call it socialism. Why don't we just remove that and call it humanism?"

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