COLUMBIA — Jamie Kroll has been running a carpentry business from home for 13 years. In that time, he's had health insurance for only seven months. But that was when the 39-year-old was just getting his business off the ground and was working at a restaurant.
He paid $600 a month for the plan, which he said he never used, and it had a high co-payment. Eventually, he decided he couldn't afford the plan.
Kroll then tried to get insurance independently for himself and his son, who was 3. And though the price he was quoted was without dental and vision coverage, it was out of his price range. "I was surprised because neither my son and I have prior illness," Kroll said.
For Kroll, who now supports two children and a wife, who is a counseling psychology student at MU, health coverage is "bleeding expensive." Whenever he has accidents, which he estimates happen once in three years and are an occupational hazard, he has to pay out-of-pocket. Same goes when his wife and children get sick or need some kind of medical attention. Kroll said he does not set aside money for medical expenses.
A few weekends ago, Kroll accidentally ran a saw over one of his fingertips. He went to the emergency room because the clinics he usually visits were closed.
"(The emergency room doctor's) bill was $193 to look at my finger for half a minute and call in the plastic surgeon," Kroll said. "The plastic surgeon stitched up my finger and charged me $384.47. The hospital charged me $702.70."
The expenses have reached a bit more than $1,200 so far, he said.
Kroll estimates health coverage for the entire family would cost about $18,000 a year, which is approximately one-third of his annual income.
The family's yearly health care expenses total around $2,000, but only if they don't have an accident. "If I take the kids to the doctor or the dentist, it is more," Kroll said.
Then there's the hit his business would take if he also had to cover the people who work for him.
None of the subcontractors who work for his company, On the Level Carpentry, has health coverage.
Kroll has one subcontractor who works full time and a couple who work part time.
He pays their medical expenses when they get hurt at work. Once, after a metal splinter flew into the eye of a subcontractor, Kroll paid $180 in medical bills.
He's worried that health care reforms might include a mandate that would require him to provide insurance for his employees.
"If I have to cover them, I have to go out of business," he said.
The Senate Finance Committee's version of the health care reform bill introduced in the Senate on Oct. 20 does not include a provision that would force small-business owners to cover subcontractors. They are also exempt from covering seasonal workers. The committee bill proposes that a tax credit be provided to qualified small-business employers for purchasing health insurance for employees. To get the tax credit, the small-business owner must have 25 or fewer full-time employees.
Kroll has not read the health care reform bill. He said he won't even read through an insurance contract. "It is doubtful I would take the time to read through the 100-plus pages of 'lawyerspeak' in a insurance contract," he said
The family incurred another major expense a few years back when his wife required surgery.
Kroll said they were able to reduce the costs by, "filing for charity from the hospital, a gracious doctor reducing her charges, and minimizing costs by (my wife) leaving the hospital the day of the surgery.” The expenses still totaled more than $10,000.
Still, Kroll opts to stay uninsured. He's gone without coverage for so long, it seems normal to him. Paying out of pocket, he said, " turns out cheaper."