That option already exists in many states, but has never worked well for many who need coverage. Premiums are sky-high, and pools sometimes have quotas and waiting periods for the very illnesses that qualify someone for pool coverage in the first place. These are usually six months, but can take as long as a year. The Senate bill calls for a six-month waiting period; the House would let people get coverage right away if there was a medical necessity for the insurance. Does that mean yet another set of qualifying hoops for the disabled?

In a story last fall, Zaldivar took a hard look at the risk pool provision in the proposed bills, examining the six-month waiting period. He raised another, equally important issue: the $5 billion set aside by Congress to help people like Ms. Walker is not enough to help all those who need it. Then he wrote that that such a small budget might work if people don’t sign up. “If only one-third were to enroll, the budget could work,” Zaldivar said. Perhaps that’s what Congress is counting on to ration the dollars it’s willing to commit to helping the disabled and others in a similar fix. Walker told the AP:

It’s atrocious that in America we would have people with medical problems bad enough that they can’t work, and they’re not able to afford to seek medical help. I just can’t believe they didn’t cut out the two-year wait.

Like Zaldivar, the public is beginning to connect the dots. Treatment of the disabled is one more indication that the country has still not embraced universal health insurance coverage, and won’t in this latest effort. And that brings us back to the headline on Zaldivar’s very good story.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.