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Health Reform May Free People From 'Job Lock'

Courtesy of Christine Lange

One of the goals of the Affordable Care Act is to give access to people who currently don’t have health insurance.

Supporters see another benefit — to give people who dream of quitting their day jobs for a chance to become an entrepreneur.

Health insurance is one big reason why Americans are locked in to their jobs. According to a 2008 Harvard study, about 11 million Americans want to change jobs, but stay on to keep their health plans.

One of those workers is 31-year-old Christine Lange. She has worked in political campaigns and in fundraising. Her last job was with King County government.

Earlier this year, Lange quit her job to start her own business. She’s keeping the idea close to the vest for now, but said it’s in retail service. “My father and in-laws are a little concerned about this career leap,” she said, “but they’re very supportive.”

Lange had dreamed about testing her entrepreneurial chops since she finished her MBA degree last June. But her number one concern was health care. Her husband was diagnosed three years ago with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

Her husband spent nearly a year in treatment. “After six months of radiation and chemo, and the mental and physical side effects after that, we need health care,” she said.

Lange said she’s thankful her health plan through work covered her husband’s treatment and medical needs.

At the same time, it kept her from pursuing a career change. If she were to have left her job earlier, it would have been difficult to get health insurance on her own. Her husband’s cancer history would’ve been considered a pre-existing condition.

Lange’s situation is not uncommon, said Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington D.C. In fact she said Lange’s situation is typical for many American workers tied to their jobs for the health benefits.

Since the mid-1990s, it’s been illegal for job-based health plans to discriminate based on employees health status.

“They’re not allowed to restrict benefits just to their healthy employees,” Pollitz said. “They can’t say we’re going to give you this coverage only if you’re not pregnant, or only if you have diabetes, or only if you pass a physical.”

So on the one hand, job-based plans have provided coverage for families who otherwise would not have been able to purchase plans on their own due to a pre-existing condition or other issue. But on the other, people could have felt stuck to their jobs.

Pollitz said it’s still too early to tell how the health care reform has changed that. But the law has reduced some of those barriers that have held them back in the past.

Lange was able to find a plan through the Washington state health exchange. It costs a little over $500 a month to cover herself and her husband.

“It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind,” she said. “After all he went through and after thinking I was never ever going to be in a position where I would have freedom to start my own business. And now three years later, not only are we insured, I can start my own business.”

Lange’s husband has been cancer-free for three years now. He still goes in for a CT scans every year. Lange said having health coverage gives her a sense of security while she pursues her dream of starting her own business. These days Lange spends her time laying the groundwork for her business.

Lange knows that most small businesses fail. But she said it would be far worse to not try and look back with regret. “Regardless of what happens, I’ll know the outcome,” she said. “Either it takes off and it works and it’s great, and I’m so glad I did it. Or it doesn’t work and that’s fine, too. But I’ll know I tried my hardest and I did my best, and I didn’t squander an opportunity.”

Year started with KUOW: 1994