Fresh out of college, Paula Wallace soon encountered a real education in the mixed-up world of poverty, health care and insurance.
Working for a Roanoke nonprofit, Wallace was helping an uninsured, low-income family when it was hit by medical bills as unforeseen as they were huge.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she recalls one of the parents repeating. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t afford to pay this bill.”
The predicament, Wallace realized, could easily be her own.
At the age of 22, Wallace has no health insurance and worries whether she can afford it. Now comes additional angst: a federal law, effective next year, that requires her to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
“I don’t know what to do, really,” she says.
What Wallace - and each of the millions of other uninsured Americans like her – decides to do could well determine the fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.
The law’s so-called individual mandate requires nearly everyone to have insurance, based in part on the premise that young and healthy people must pay into a system that would otherwise be overburdened with the costs of treating the older, sicker population.