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Life Without Health Insurance: Unavailable Treatment

Wednesday, May 30, 2007 at 1:26 PM

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1.2 million Ohioans live without health insurance. Many of those people go without the treatment they need often until conditions become unbearable. Starting today, 90.3 will provide occasional reports on life without health insurance. We start with an unusual story that illustrates what can happen when treatment is either unavailable or unaffordable - a situation that's growing worse in Ohio. ideastream's Health Reporter Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports.

Outside Tyrone Young’s small one room apartment, evening traffic and lawn mowers are a common occurrence. But the life Young has lead has been less than ordinary. But he’s still proud of it.

Tyrone Young: In the middle here, that’s my Ohio GED certificate.

Young’s chronicled his life of 47 years through certificates of achievement on a wall. They’ve been a struggle. One of 15 children, he dropped out of school in the 10th grade, began drinking and drifted in and out of work. His longest job was in the military.

Tyrone Young: I went though a police security school, that’s Tops Security School. This is my honorable discharge from the United States Army.

Young says he continued to drink, in secret, for about a decade after his six years in the Army.

Tyrone Young: I became an everyday drinker. And I was able to hide it from my family a lot.

But there were other problems too. Psychiatric ones that went undiagnosed at the time, but that Young now says were exacerbated by his drinking. He suffered from deep depressions, as well as periods of cold panic and extreme anxiety.

Tyrone Young: When you’re not comfortable with yourself, where can you go? There’s no place to go. If you’re uncomfortable with other people you can remove yourself, but when its going on internalize then you not able to get away from yourself.

Young tried several times on his own to stop drinking, but he was never able to stay sober. Looking back he says he was in denial about his need for help. Finally, homeless and with nothing left but an old car, Young went on a drinking binge for several days… and hit bottom.

Tyrone Young: I had got in my vehicle. I was suicidal. I wanted to get out, some way to stop the madness from happening. I was driving and I took the car and intentionally ran it into a police cruiser, hoping the police would get out and kill me.

Young was arrested and, at age 34, was finally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The Court found him not guilty by reason of insanity and sent him to a treatment hospital for many months. Young’s case worker at the time, Sarah McGuire remembers how bad his condition had become.

Sarah McGuire: He was feeling very very depressed. As anyone would expect, depression’s a terrible thing to deal with. Especially if you’re experiencing hallucinations at the same time.

McGuire now directs a treatment branch of Recovery Resources, the same agency that treated Young for his alcoholism and his schizophrenia. She says Young was lucky to get the hospital treatment that he did. She says many people struggle with their treatment, or never fully complete them for a variety of reasons.

Now, access to treatment for those without health insurance is getting worse, especially for the mentally ill, according to William Denihan, head of the Cuyahoga County Community Mental Health Board. The state hasn’t increased the amount it spends for treatment of the mentally ill in the past 10 years. Plus, the Federal government is cutting back its share of what it will contribute to Mental Health Medicaid spending in Ohio and in other states.

William Denihan: That pool is dwindling significantly which provides less resources for us to provide services for those in the working poor area.

To find more money for Mental Health Medicaid funding, the Ohio House cut a provision in Governor Ted Strickland’s budget that would have spent $5 million reforming how the state funds community Mental Health programs. A provision to spend $1.8 million on children’s mental health services is still in the budget for now.

Advocates says the less money Ohio spends on treating mental illnesses of the working poor, the fewer second chances there will be for people like Tyrone Young. Now 13 years after beginning his treatment, he healthcare is covered by the public mental health system and he’s graduating from the Lutheran School, Capital University, with a bachelor’s Degree in social work.

To pick up that degree, Young and 10 members of his family are traveling to Columbus for his graduation.

Tyrone Young: I feel overjoyed. I’m finally going to reach the destiny of that stage. I got some butterflies in my stomach.

After graduation, Young will begin earning his Masters Degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University. Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.

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