Diabetes prevents Walnut Creek woman from obtaining insurance

Rose Beletz, photographed at her home in Walnut Creek, Calif., (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

WALNUT CREEK — As she grows older, being uninsured has begun to weigh on Rose Beletz.

At age 62, the Walnut Creek woman, who has Type 1 diabetes, has been lucky in maintaining good health. But she knows that can change in an instant. Then what would she do, she wonders.

Beletz is among thousands of Californians who find it difficult or impossible to obtain health insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition.

Rose Beletz, photographed at her home in Walnut Creek, Calif., talks about her Type 1 diabetes and how she uses this penlike tool to monitor her diabetes on Monday, May 10, 2010. Beletz is among thousands of Californians who are unable to buy health insurance because of a medical condition. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

When she last attempted to buy insurance several years ago, companies either rejected her or quoted monthly premiums of $700 to $900. That is well beyond her means.

She looked into the state's existing high-risk pool, but concluded it would not offer any relief from the high prices. Today, people in her age group in the state pool pay monthly premiums of $700 to $1,233.

"Insurance for her is just prohibitive," said her husband, Anton, shaking his head.

Anton is 78 and thus qualifies for Medicare. But Rose has several more years before she will be eligible. She has been uninsured for 12 years and pays out-of-pocket for all of her medical expenses, dipping into their savings.

The couple used to pay nearly $300 a month for the insulin, test strips and needles that Rose requires to manage her diabetes. Then they discovered that by ordering from pharmacies in Canada and South Dakota, they could drop the monthly expense to $160.

Rose has learned firsthand about the high prices the uninsured can pay for medical care. One physician demanded $300 upfront before he would see her.

Beletz eagerly awaits details about the high-risk pool that California will set up this summer. Although the premiums are expected to be lower than in the existing pool, she worries they will not drop nearly enough to become affordable.

Her big hope is to stave off illness and serious injury until she reaches age 65 and qualifies for Medicare. Until then, she focuses on eating nutritious foods and maintaining a healthful lifestyle. But as her husband points out, people have limited control over their health, no matter how hard they strive to remain healthy.

"It's a gamble," he said.

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