The Uninsured And Unconvinced

Back in October, Northwest News Network's Austin Jenkins talked with Lyn Robinson, a self-employed, 53-year-old who doesn't want to buy health insurance. Jenkins checked in with her recently and found, that despite the urgings of friends and family, she's still not convinced she needs it.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

As Congress works to extend health care to millions of Americans, there are a fair number of people who would rather do without. In October, we introduced you to Lyn Robinson, she's a 53-year-old small business owner based near Seattle, who chooses to live without the safety net of health coverage.

Ms. LYN ROBINSON (Business Owner): I'm sure that there's people out there that are going to say that's crazy and irresponsible. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't.

HANSEN: Turns out, a lot of Robinson's closest family and friends thought it was irresponsible.

Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network has this follow-up.

AUSTIN JENKINS: At a Starbucks in south Seattle, Lyn Robinson is outnumbered. She sits at a table with three other women: Her 28-year-old daughter, her best friend of nearly 50 years and her niece. They all love Lyn, but think she's taking a big risk.

Ms. ROBINSON: The reason that I don't have insurance is that I would pay for it. I don't have an employer that would pay for it. And I liken it to the reason that I don't buy lottery tickets or go to the Indian casinos.

JENKINS: In other words, Robinson thinks given the odds, it would be a waste of money. Her daughter, Rachel Frasier(ph), thinks mom ought to buy some coverage.

Ms. RACHEL FRASIER: It would show that she's taking steps to be a responsible adult.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman: Right on, Rachel.

JENKINS: Lyn Robinson runs a plant nursery. In her spare time she climbs mountains, skis and goes backpacking. Robinson believes in preventive health care. She regularly sees a naturopathic doctor and a chiropractor. But daughter Rachel, holding her toddler in her lap, can't help but lecture grandma.

Ms. FRASIER: It doesn't matter how healthy you are, you could be struck by lightning, break your back falling down a mountain and then what do you do, you know? No amount of chiropractic care is going to cover that.

JENKINS: Robinson knows the risk. Eight years ago, she fell and broke her wrist rollerblading. She had to have surgery and it cost her $14,000 out of pocket. She says she's looked for an insurance plan to cover her in a future emergency, but so far hasn't found a policy she likes at the right price. She did find a pet insurance policy for her Dalmatian - no joke.

Ms. ROBINSON: I did. I did. It's $50 a month.

JENKINS: She says it gives her peace of mind.

Ms. ROBINSON: I love my dog. You know how I love my dog. And I could not bear the thought of having to put him to sleep just simply because I don't have enough money to keep him alive. Nobody is going to put me down because I've got, you know, an injury that's going to cost thousands of dollars.

JENKINS: But Robinson could go bankrupt and that worries her. This is when Robinson's niece, Liz Johnson, speaks up. She tells the story of her brother who has advanced colon cancer.

Ms. LIZ JOHNSON: He waited until his insurance was working before getting a colonoscopy and at that point his colon cancer had gone all through his system. And he has now reached his cap with his medical insurance, and he's now in Mexico getting treatment.

JENKINS: That silences the table for a few moments. Then the women begin to grapple with what's the solution. Liz Johnson believes health care and profits are a toxic mix. Lyn Robinson thinks the answer is fewer regulations and more competition.

Ms. ROBINSON: We need a third option, a clean slate from everything that's going on now and what they're talking about, but a new insurance paradigm.

Ms. BARBARA SMITH: Well, we've tried that now.

JENKINS: Barbara Smith jumps in. She and Robinson have been best friends since kindergarten, and they're not afraid to disagree.

Ms. ROBINSON: But we haven't tried it.

Ms. SMITH: Oh, yes, we have. It's called the free market and it's not working.

Ms. ROBINSON: There's too many - there's barriers. There's restrictions and there needs to be profit motive. I mean, that's what is going to make it work.

JENKINS: Lyn Robinson hopes the health care overhaul effort in Congress fails. That kills Barbara Smith. She's a liberal Democrat who served as a delegate for Ted Kennedy when he ran for president in 1980.

Ms. SMITH: I think it's naive. As much as I love her, I think it's uninformed and naive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENKINS: It's tough love, but Robinson says she can take it.

Ms. ROBINSON: I'm not going to get my way on this. I know it. I'm in the minority.

JENKINS: As the women stand up to leave, it's still hugs and kisses all around.

Ms. FRASIER: Bye-bye. Love you.

Ms. ROBINSON: Love you, too. Bye (unintelligible).

Ms. FRASIER: Say bye-bye.

Ms. SMITH: Good to see you.

Ms. ROBINSON: Take care. Bye-bye.

JENKINS: Disagree as they may on health care, these women say they won't let an issue that's dividing the country divide them.

For NPR News, I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia, Washington.

HANSEN: Our series Are You Covered is produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, a non-profit news service. And at NPR.org you can explore the health insurance situations of other Americans.

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