‘The skyrocketing costs of our nation’s failing health care system are hitting employers hard and that means higher costs for all of us,’ says America’s AFL-CIO trade union federation.

A look at some of the stories submitted to the AFL-CIO/Working America 2008 Health Care for America Survey shows just how difficult America’s workers are finding it to make sure they and their families have health care coverage.

Joel, a UAW member from Michigan, tells an all-too-typical story about his health care costs.

He says: ‘I have had the same insurance for the past two years.

‘Each year they have offered me a choice, 15–20 percent higher premiums or doubling my deductible.

‘And you guessed it: no better coverage.’

A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation bolsters observations by Joel and some of the thousands of others who have taken our survey, finding that the cost of employer-provided health insurance is increasing at unsustainable rates, leaving businesses and workers alike bearing the burden.

From 1960 to 2007, the amount spent by employers on group health insurance policies increased more than 20 times – from $23 billion in 1960 to $537 billion in 2006.

Between 2001 and 2007, the cost of premiums increased 78 per cent, far more than the rate of inflation.

As the cost of providing health coverage has increased, the study shows, wages have declined as a share of the economy.

Projecting into the future, the costs of private health care can be expected to take up an enormously large share of the economy, unless serious reform is undertaken.

Writing from Ohio, Mike knows he’s not alone in struggling to pay for health care coverage.

He says: ‘I have insurance, but I don’t call it insurance.

‘Premiums have gone up 3 or 4 times in the last couple of years.

‘I had no deductible; now I have a $2,500 deductible and will have to pay over $5,000 before I can even use my health insurance.

‘And I am not done, I have a co-pay of 10 per cent after that.

‘No eye care, no dental, what more can I say – gas prices, food prices, taxes, everything is going up but the pay is the same or less.

‘The ship is sinking fast! I know a lot of people that have the same problems, so I don’t believe that it is isolated to only a few.’

Other comments posted on the survey show workers’ bitter experiences.

Daniel (Sheet Metal Workers International Association, Pennsylvania) Category: ‘Thank God I’m a union Member.

‘Even as a Union employee my quality of continues to decrease because our raises are consumed by Health Care Costs.’

Mare Wahhosi (Washington): ‘I cut my thumb. Went to the hospital.

‘It took about 20 min to get ten stitches! It cost me $650.00!!! At the time I was a single mother of two children earning $ 7.00 a hour.

‘It took me over a year to pay the bill. Next time it’s crazy glue for me.’

Reba McGear (Washington): ‘As a nurse for 45 years and a prescribing NP for 23 years, providing health care is becoming increasingly less satisfying because of dealing with multiple insurance companies.

‘All of these companies have many rules of what they will cover so that providers have to have two times the office staff just to deal with insurance companies.

‘Patients do not understand their own plans and their is no way that a health care professional can understand them all.

‘Instead of spending time with patients, I have to spend time dealing with the insurance companies.

‘What it comes down to is that insurance companies are in charge of too many medical decisions and individuals do not get the best care for them unless it happens to be the same as what the insurance company will pay for.’

Jennifer (Utah): ‘In trying to obtain insurance on my own, as my employer is a small business that cannot provide it to us due to cost, I have been denied by every company for a myriad of reasons.

‘One said, “…because of a miscarriage…”, only to turn right back around and state, “…if she gets pregnant, we will cover her.”

‘Why would I want to get pregnant again if I miscarried already and do not want to have children yet?

‘Another stated my denial was based upon the number of doctor’s visits I had made in the previous year, which were due to an allergic reaction resulting from the miscarriage.

‘And another denial because I had seen a physician, not a specialist or cardiologist, over what I was thinking was an irregular heartbeat, but no diagnosis was ever made nor any treatment ever recommended or received.

‘When I tried to see if I qualified for any assistance via MedicAid or the UPP in Utah, I was told I make too much money.

‘So, do I quit my job to leech off the system since, even though I COULD HAVE afforded it, I was denied private insurance?’

Judith (American Federation of Teachers, Missouri): ‘While I currently have health insurance through my employer, it seems that if I retire in a timely fashion, I will either be dependent upon Medicare or have to pay out a large sum of money to have full health coverage.

‘I guess this means that I can’t retire until I just can’t make it any more.

‘The cost for my insurance would be about half of what my retirement income would be. That won’t work.’

Caralu (Tennessee): ‘I have a lump that doesn’t grow, but of late has begun to feel. . . odd.

‘Not the lump itself, but the tissue beneath it.

‘Can’t get it checked out, so may be seriously ill, but won’t know it, and couldn’t do anything about it if I am.’

Tammy (Florida): ‘I hurt my back at work lifting a patient.

‘When I returned to work and asked for light duty – they tried to fire me so that I would not be vested in my pension plan after four and a half years on the job.

‘I was forced to resign as I was denied my request for a three-month light-duty assignment to ease myself back into work.

‘I could no longer afford to stay out of work and closed the workers comp. case as I did not want to be labelled “disabled”.

‘I simply wanted to work and a few more months to heal before going back to heavy duty lifting.

‘We never received adequate assistance when it came to lifting, so there was a high risk of injury or exacerbation of prexisting conditions.

‘And there were light duty assignments available.

‘They just wanted to keep me from being vested in my pension.

‘I chose to protect my health and walked away from the pension I put into for four and a half years.

‘Imagine, they’re in the business of Healthcare and they don’t protect their own workers.’

Chuck (Other, Michigan): ‘I am disappointed that Doctors are charging more than what insurance covers. We are getting bills from the Doctors.’

Inviting workers to contribute to the survey, AFL-CIO says: ‘Working men and women of every age, race and income know the importance of health care to our families.

‘This survey is our chance to make our voices heard and ensure that leaders and candidates at every level understand what working families are experiencing.

‘Survey responses will be given to the presidential candidates, every US senator and representative, every candidate for Congress and state and local officials in every state in our country.

‘The 2008 Health Care for America Survey is sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the largest organisation of working people in America, and Working America, the 2-million-member community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

‘Those who complete the survey will receive the compiled, nationwide results.’