Clinton's Health Plan : Health Plan: A User's Guide : Reform Will Affect All Americans : THE UNINSURED : 'If I got very sick, it would eat up my college fund'

John Stark, a 29-year-old bachelor from Fullerton, is healthy but worried.

Although he makes $2,000 a month working full time at La Habra Moving & Storage, he has no medical insurance from the small company and says he can't afford to buy his own policy.

He takes classes at Fullerton College and is saving money to finish his degree at a four-year college in pursuit of a career in public relations. All has gone well, so far, but Stark says he lives in fear that an unexpected illness or accident could sideline his plans.

"If I got very sick, it would eat up my college fund," he said.

For Stark, as for most of the 37 million Americans without health insurance, President Clinton's health care plan brings mostly good news. No longer could a serious illness throw all his financial plans into a cocked hat; like everyone else, he would be insured.

True, he would have to pay 20% of the cost of that insurance (La Habra Moving & Storage would pay the other 80%). But for a single person, the Clinton Administration estimates that a typical policy would cost $1,800 a year, and Stark's share would be $360, or $30 a month.

That should seem like a bargain. Stark once looked into buying medical insurance on his own, only to discover that he would have to pay $200 a month for a policy that would leave him responsible for his first $500 a year in medical expenses.

Luckily, Stark is in generally good health. But he knows from experience how quickly that can change.

When he was 20 and uninsured, working for $5 an hour as a hardware store clerk, he became seriously ill with a virus. He put off seeing a doctor to avoid the expense, and ultimately wound up being taken by a roommate to a hospital emergency room, "so sick I couldn't walk."

An overnight stay in the hospital and follow-up treatment, he said, produced a $1,700 hospital bill that took him two years to pay. That taught him the importance of insurance, but he insists that medical coverage is beyond his financial reach unless someone--his employer or the government--foots most of the bill.

While Stark now works mostly as a manager, he said he sometimes pitches in to help the movers. If he gets hurt on the job, "workers' compensation will help, but won't help nearly enough."

He said he has seen the limitations of workers' compensation coverage as co-workers recuperating from work injuries often depend on financial assistance from friends and relatives.

In his off-work hours, Stark relishes outdoor sports. "I like to surf and mountain bike. I live life," he said. "But there is always the thought in the back of my head: 'What if I hurt myself? If I break something, I don't have any insurance.' "

He said this concern makes him especially cautious.

"I try to think smart," he said. "When I bike, I make sure I wear all the safety equipment--a helmet and gloves and padded shorts," he said. "And when I surf I make sure to stay out of the crowd" to avoid getting knocked by another surfboard.

Stark said "all the news stuff" about health care reform has prompted him to start stashing away $40 a month for unforeseen medical needs. "My plan is to have $1,000 just in case something happened," he said.

Under Clinton's plan, he could spend the $1,000 for his education and rely on his new insurance to cover his medical expenses. And instead of setting aside $40 a month as a sort of self-insurance, he would face only a $30 monthly insurance bill.

Of course, Stark has been more prudent than most young, single workers. Many others in that category would probably rather pay nothing for insurance and take their chances.

All together, according to the Administration, some 85% of the 37 million uninsured Americans are workers or dependents of workers. Under the President's plan, all of them would have to begin paying for insurance. But all of them, the Administration says, would get more than their money's worth.

Stark thinks he would. He said he hopes that the Clinton plan will provide insurance for him so he save more for school.

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