A year ago last August, I visited the college town of Columbia, Missouri, and did man-on-the-street interviews with small business owners, college students, and people getting care at a community clinic. I went back to Columbia a few weeks ago and visited the same shops, the same clinic, and talked to people walking Columbia’s streets. We talked about health reform. What I found corroborates anecdotally what the polls are finding scientifically; that people don’t like reform; believe much of the misinformation that they’ve heard; don’t see how it will help them; and have a bad feeling about what will happen to their benefits. Many had not even heard of the reform law. Yet many I interviewed, even if they didn’t support the law, did not vote for the state to opt out of the federal law. This is the second of two posts that takes the pulse of Missourians. The first post is here.
Given all the press coverage of health reform last year, both good and bad, and the Obama administration’s recent publicity blitz to promote the law’s most favorable elements, it was astonishing to me that many I visited with in Missouri had never heard of the law, much less knew anything about what it did or how it affected them. Twenty-one year old Jennifer Kincheloe was one of them. She kept an eye on Johnny, her one-year old toddler, a cute little boy with blonde curly hair who was trying to keep still in the waiting room at the Family Health Center where they had come for his check-up.
“I know nothing about the law,” she told me. Her husband is a roofer, and she works as a custodian at the University of Missouri’s athletic department. Neither has health insurance. She said she was on Medicaid until her son was born; she’s off the program; he is still on. When it came to other aspects of health care and the reform law, I might as well have been chatting with a Martian. “We really don’t watch TV,” she told me. “So I heard nothing about it.”
Others had heard snippets about the law, but had more pressing concerns on their minds. At the St. Louis airport, I talked with twenty-nine year old Elonna Paraham, who was working at The Paradies Shops selling newspapers and sundries. She has health insurance from the job that requires her to pay high copayments. I asked how the law affects her. “Actually, I haven’t thought about it,” she said. Her main worry is just scraping up enough money to live. Paraham told me she gets up each day at three in the morning to drive from her home in Bellville, Illinois, forty-five minutes away. She works at Paradies from 5 am to 12:30 and then heads to her second job, at Busch Stadium, where she is a supervisor for the diamond box seats. Her two jobs bring in about $2200 a month after taxes. “I have to have two incomes at this time,” she said. “I have a mortgage, food, car notes and everyday bills to pay.” She said she has no time to watch TV or do much reading. It’s no wonder she knew nothing about health reform.
Hannah Spratt, a sophomore at the University of Missouri majoring in English and technical theater, does a lot of reading, but not the kind that tells her much about health care politics. “I always tell myself that I will read more newspapers, but I would rather read a novel instead,” she told me. “The Count of Monte Cristo, that’s got to be my favorite.” Spratt was reading Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence the day I found her sitting on a bench near the campus bookstore.