The ruinous cost of a handicapped daughter

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The Independent Online
WHEN Kevin Maggio was laid off from his job as an electrical engineer a year ago he knew he was losing more than his salary, writes David Usborne. Gone, too, was his company health insurance. With a wife and six children, the youngest with multiple handicaps, he had little chance of affording a replacement policy.

For 12 months the Maggio family was caught in the healthcare black hole occupied by almost one in seven Americans. Limited coverage was available for the three youngest children through the federal Medicaid programme, but for both parents and the other children there was nothing. The nightmare only ended three weeks ago when Mr Maggio found new work.

'The worst is not knowing from day to day what is going to happen. You just hope that if you do get hurt it's in the car and the car insurance will pay,' Mr Maggio said last week. Above all, he feared losing his trailer home in the Smokey Mountains, south-west Virginia. 'It would only have taken one hospital visit and the house would have been gone. It's a really fine line between making it and not making it.'

Kevin, 42, came close to disaster weeks after being made redundant. Suffering terrible back pain in his back, he was forced to visit a doctor who diagnosed kidney stones and recommended immediate hospital treatment. But, with no spare money, Kevin simply could not go.

Cathy, 40, said: 'He had tostay at home and do it the old-fashioned way - do what your wife tells you, drink cranberry juice, quarts of it, and just wait for it to pass in the bathroom. He probably came as close to childbirth as any man ever could that day.'

Cathy was obliged to give up a teacher-training course and take a part-time job, which she will finally give up this weekend. 'Often I was not feeling well, but I never went to a doctor,' she said, adding that the children had the same experience. 'We were all under the same cloud.'

Kevin believes he was laid off in the first place because of the high cost of care for the youngest child, Maria, who is on oxygen and is deaf and blind. His old company is self-insured, deducting premiums from pay cheques and covering any medical costs of employees. 'I have no proof, but I believe that the main reason I was laid off was because of my child's handicap.'

Healthcare reform, if it is at least as comprehensive as the Mitchell Senate version, should stop the Maggio situation repeating itself. 'There's no reason why anybody should have to go through what we went through,' said Kevin. 'It just doesn't seem right.'

The Maggios support what President Clinton is trying to do. But many friends and neighbours, even those who have no insurance, oppose what they see as government interference. Said Cathy: 'People are independent. You don't ask anybody for anything around here. If you do you're unAmerican and a communist.'

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