ELKHART -- One had spent five years not knowing if she would have her next month's prescriptions. The other put off an operation for three years.
Both Debbie Myrick, 48, and Laura Veich, 51, let their health lapse because they did not have the means to pay for health care. Now, after being enrolled in the Healthy Indiana Plan, the state's low-cost insurance program, Debbie Myrick regularly takes her medications, and Laura Veich has gotten her hernia operation. Both Elkhart County residents have the insurance premium-free, thanks to an outreach program through the Elkhart General Hospital foundation.
The Elkhart General Hospital Foundation helps Elkhart County residents apply for HIP and, if they are eligible, the foundation will volunteer to pay their monthly premiums. Olivia Hernandez, the foundation's HIP enrollment support, helps people complete the application and keeps tabs on their application status.
For about five years, Myrick relied on Church Community Services, the Salvation Army and Heart City Health Center to fill her $100 monthly prescription.
"Or I did without," she said.
She had no income and owed about $100,000 in medical bills. She had peripheral artery disease, emphysema and heart disease.
"My blood vessels were clogging up because I was supposed to have Plavix. I was devastated. I didn't want to get out of bed."
Veich doesn't have health insurance through the laundromat where she works. She had known she had to have surgery to fix a hernia for three years, but could not afford the operation.
"I was just glad (the hernia) didn't strangulate," she said.
She had the surgery last year, which HIP covered, along with follow-up visits and medications. Her out-of-pocket expenses totaled about $200.
"I can go to the doctor if I get hurt," Veich said. "It's a big relief off my shoulders."
Some of the people who enroll through the foundation earn a low income, some have lost their jobs and some are displaced, said Patty Gremaux, director of community outreach at Elkhart General Hospital. It is common to see people pick up soda cans and take them to a recycling center for money, people staying with friends and people performing odd jobs with no source of steady income, Gremaux said.
"We found that a lot of the individuals we're working with literally had no income," she said.
When a person is approved in HIP, he or she receives a letter stating what the monthly insurance premium will be.
As of the beginning of this month, 1,106 Elkhart County residents are enrolled in the program, according to Marcus Barlow, director of communications and media for the Family and Social Services Administration. Their monthly insurance premiums depend on their income, but people don't pay more than 15 percent of their gross income.
Through the foundation's help, 353 people have been approved, and the foundation is funding 203 of those. The state is funding the other 150, which pay lower premiums, Gremaux said. The foundation has assisted in filling out 670 applications and $138,000 in financial donations.
"I can see the struggle of what the people have been going through," Hernandez said. "Once they're on the program, people call me back and say, 'Thank you.'"
Since HIP debuted in January 2008, slightly more than 44,000 Hoosiers have enrolled. The program reached its cap of 34,000 non-caretaker adults in March and a waiting list started in early April now has 6,700 names, said Jill Claypool, director of care programs with Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration. There is no cap for adults who are caretakers.
So far, the state has been covering more people in the 30- to 60-year-old range -- where Myrick and Veich fall -- and not as many in the 19- to 30-year-old range, Claypool said.
Both Myrick and Veich have told people about the foundation's financial help and have brought people into Hernandez's office so that they can sign up.
"Once you're on it, you want everybody else to have it, too," Myrick said.
HOW TO GET ON THE HEALTHY INDIANA PLAN
Provides low-cost coverage to uninsured Hoosiers ages 19 to 64, whose household income is between 22 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level and who are not eligible for Medicaid.
Eligible participants must have been uninsured for six months, and cannot be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance.
Elkhart General Hospital Foundation is still enrolling people in HIP and has funds available to help pay HIP premiums. For more information, call Olivia Hernandez at (574) 524-7523.