Health costs hurting the Irish
Employees feel bad too. Sarah (not her real name) works in a bar in Woodside. She’s 27 and has lived in New York for seven years.
She has never had health insurance, and most of her friends don’t have it either. The deals employers offer are not much better than what you could find yourself, she says.
And she is legal. “I have papers and I still don’t have health insurance,” she says.
To see a doctor costs Sarah between $120 and $150 per appointment, and a prescription is an extra $65 on top of that. That’s just for a routine visit.
Trips to specialists would cost much more. When Sarah’s friends are unwell, they go to the hospital, and if they’re really sick they fly home to Ireland.
The lack of access to proper healthcare is harming the Irish community. Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodside, confirms that both documented and undocumented Irish immigrants lack health insurance.
Illegal immigrants tend to get jobs in construction or bars and restaurants, industries that didn’t traditionally offer insurance. But many legal Irish immigrants work in small firms that can’t provide it any more either.
Without insurance, medical fees can be enormous, as everyone knows. Cancer has been a huge problem for the community, Dennehy explains.
“Hardly a week goes by that there isn’t some benefit to raise funds for people. People just hope they don’t get sick,” she says.
Many small business-owners cannot even insure themselves, and would-be entrepreneurs are choosing not to go it alone, fearing that they won’t be able to cover themselves and their families.
“There’s a history of the Irish being entrepreneurial,” says O’Donoghue. “The dream was working for your own business. But I have some clients who are choosing not to start their own businesses because they are worried about being without health insurance. A lot of the American dream is being held back.”
Mick, who did not wish to give his last name, is 33, and has lived in the U.S. for the past six years. He chose the entrepreneurial route, setting up a computer programming company with three other men. None of them have health insurance.
When Mick broke a bone in his foot two years ago, he went to the emergency room. He already knew it was broken, and the doctors didn’t do much to help him.
“They X-rayed my foot and gave me a wooden crutch,” he says.
Two years later, he’s still getting bills. “Added together it’s about $2,000,” he says. “That was the last time I went to the emergency room. I won’t be going again – unless I really have to.”
Mick would like to have coverage. “I would love to provide all the benefits for me and the other guys,” he says. “But I have looked into it. It’s not possible, we’re not making that much money.”
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