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The Middle-Class Squeeze

Georgia lawmakers get set to turn the screws

by and


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Telling facts: According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 19 percent of a Georgia middle-class family's income is needed to pay for a four-year, public college and 48 percent to pay for a four-year, private college.

Georgia jerk-around: Last month, Gov. Sonny Perdue asked legislators to craft a bill that would limit where lottery money is allocated. Perdue would like to channel the dough solely to HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten, instead of spending it on things such as satellite dishes and metal detectors. That should help stabilize HOPE funding. But his budget this year is expected to put more pressure on the University System to keep raising tuitions. And plans for income-based student aid or to extend HOPE scholarships to other student expenses aren't being seriously considered.

Compare it: Georgia is one of only four states that doesn't offer need-based tuition. Other states, including North Carolina and Virginia, invest 38 percent in need-based financial aid when compared with the federal investment. Georgia offers zilch.

Health Insurance

Take your chances in the ER

Tammy Osborne is a 46-year old secretary who lives in Fair Oaks and hasn't had health insurance since her husband died.

My husband worked at Lockheed Martin for 23 years. He was an aircraft structural machinist. He worked on the F-22, and not everyone gets to work on that. You've got to be good.

He was laid off on Sept. 22, 2005, after a strike over retiree insurance and benefits. A lot of these workers had daddies who taught them how to fight for their rights. The union was going to work it out with Lockheed to get Johnny back on the job. They did work it out, actually. He was going to go back to work the first of the year in January 2006. But he never did go back. Christmas Eve, he was fine. Christmas Day, his leg was paralyzed. His kidneys were hurtin'. We didn't have health insurance. Your insurance expires if you violate company policy. We took him to Emory-Adventist Hospital -- where the poor folks go. At 6 p.m. on Christmas Day, he was dead.

UNCOVERED: Tammy Osborne has health problems but hasn't seen a doctor in a year. - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • UNCOVERED: Tammy Osborne has health problems but hasn't seen a doctor in a year.

The union tried to get me health insurance as Johnny's widow, but they said I had to either be 75 years old or blind in order to qualify. The COBRA coverage they could get me cost $770 a month, and I can't afford it. Some of the workers who went on strike who had pre-existing diseases had to pay between $900 and $1,000 a month for COBRA.

I don't feel well. A lot of it is depression over Johnny. It's been a year since he died and it still hurts. But I have physical health problems, too. I haven't been to a doctor, I wouldn't know.

The issue: If you're fortunate enough to have health insurance, you're still feeling the pain of high costs. Over the last six years, annual premiums rose an average of 11 percent each year. The average annual cost of health insurance for an individual in the South totals $3,950. And you don't just pay for yourself. According to the state Department of Community Health, in addition to shouldering its own health-care burden, an average family of three with private coverage pays about $969 per year in higher premium costs, simply to cover health providers' costs for treating the uninsured.

Telling facts: Some 1.7 million Georgians lack health insurance, according to the Department of Community Health. Two-thirds of them work.

Georgia jerk-around: Key Republicans favor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's plan to reward businesses that enable employees to create personal health savings accounts. Gingrich's model works great for those who are in good health, and who have the money to set aside for personal savings. But it does nothing to address the high costs that low- and moderate-income families suffer. Its long-term effects could threaten the very structure of group health insurance, which depends on people pooling their risk.

Compare it: Nearly 250,000 men and many more families are currently enrolled in Tennessee's state-sponsored health-insurance program TennCare, which has broader eligibility requirements than Georgia's PeachCare. As a result, only 14 percent of Tennessee's population is uninsured, while 18.2 percent are uninsured in Georgia, according to the Kaiser-Permanente Foundation.

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