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    In Southwest Georgia, Insurance Costs Run High


    Even some people who qualify for federal assistance, such as Stacie Brown, owner of a pottery shop, are balking. The cheapest "bronze" plan for Brown, her husband and son would cost the family $300 a month but not begin paying medical bills until they exceeded the $6,300 individual deductible. The cheapest silver plan would cost $508 a month but not start paying until a $3,000 individual deductible was met. Her son's pediatrician was not in any of the networks and that was the one medical service she felt sure her family would use.

    Brown ultimately bought a $256-a-month Assurant Health plan for her son, sold outside the marketplace, which covers his pediatrician and unlimited office visits. She and her husband have decided to forgo coverage for themselves, even though they may face a tax penalty of $700.

    "I can’t afford the affordable health care," she said. "I don't know anyone in this area who can afford it, and I do pretty well in life."

    Others, such as Mullins, last year renewed their expiring plans for one final year. At $2,150 a month, Mullins’ old plan is no bargain. "We've never had cheap rates down here," said Hardin, his broker. "A lot of people just choose to go without coverage. They just present themselves to the emergency room."

    An Unhealthy Population

    With prices double those in Atlanta, health insurance is pretty much the only thing that is abnormally expensive in Southwest Georgia. The average household income in the Albany metro area is $46,000, and half of the houses sell for less than $105,000. A dozen oysters at one of the fancier restaurants costs $9.

    But all the ingredients for heavy health care needs—both medical and socioeconomic—are common in the 12 counties of Southwest Georgia, which are being treated as a distinct region in the insurance market. One in four children live in poverty and one out of every three people here are obese. Babies are more likely than those in most parts of the country to have low birth weights, according to data compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

    Fri, Jan 31 2014

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