Altoona, Penn. -- Vicky Zeoli has always had a love for books. She reads three a week. So when her three kids were out of the house and her husband had a good stable job, she decided to make the hour-long drive to Penn State University each day to go to college for the first time. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education when she was 53.
That’s when her life took an unexpected turn. Her husband lost his job and with it, her medical insurance. Then she had a stroke.
Her health has recovered, but her finances have not.
“This has been the worst time for us,” Zeoli said, holding back tears. “We’re behind in our mortgage payments. We were in foreclosure. We almost lost the house.”
When school started this fall she was able to make enough money by substitute teaching to catch up on the $350 monthly mortgage payments, but at 61, she says it’s nearly impossible to get a fulltime teaching job with health benefits. Administrators prefer younger candidates, she said. At one point, she even tried getting job at Wal-Mart, but was told she was overqualified because of her degree.
Zeoli’s husband, Don, 57, became disabled after losing his job and collects social security disability payments, but that doesn’t include medical insurance.
After being rejected for medical insurance through Pennsylvania’s welfare agency (her income was over the limit), she started going to a free clinic funded by the local hospital and staffed by volunteer doctors. She credits the clinic with saving her life.
“I can’t afford the medicine,” said Zeoli, who is an insulin-dependent diabetic, “The insulin is way out of my price range.”
Zeoli’s doctor, Zane Gates, has recently seen a “dramatic increase” of people like Zeoli seeking free medicine in the clinic.
“When I first started, it was mostly people who had been suddenly unemployed,” he said. “Now it’s mostly the employed. With the economy getting worse and worse and worse that number is going to skyrocket.”
Both presidential candidates offer health plans to help cover the 46 million Americans, who like Zeoli, lack medical insurance. Gates prefers Barack Obama’s plan because he believes it will cover more people. He has doubts, however, that it will pass even a Democratic Congress because of the huge price tag.
“We might be able to put more people on insurance but with a 9.9 percent inflation rate in health care it’s not sustainable financially for this country,” Gates said.
Zeoli is fed up with the rhetoric of the campaign and both candidates. From her perspective, the issue is simple.
“I need medical coverage that I can afford,” she said.
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