“I hate glass!” Gary stated with an affirmative tone when I first met him at a county fair in western Pennsylvania. I chuckled with an overtone of confusion waiting what I thought would be a punch line. “In fact, if you come to my house, I don’t have anything made of glass anymore,” he explained. He continued to describe the journey which led to his fractured relationship with glass and it didn’t include a punch line. In fact, Gary was one of dozens of employees recently laid off from the local glass company when it moved its plants to Venezuela. Textiles, steel or glass, you name it. The abandoned structures of the Pennsylvania manufacturing industry litter the landscape. If you look hard enough at the rusted shells of the factories that used to harbor tireless production, you can see the ghosts of generations past and their lifestyle that has not withstood the test of time.
His relationship with glass wasn’t the only thing left shattered after the plant departure. His sense of security in being able to take care of his family’s health needs is also fragile. While he is picking up the pieces of his career by going back to trade school for working with heavy machines, his only opportunity for healthcare security comes from the very expensive COBRA plan. While COBRA allows him to maintain his prior health insurance plan, it is costing Gary and others in his situation over $14,000 a year. For many, this is a financial impossibility when you don’t even have a job. In 2009, 57% of unemployed adults were without health insurance.
Gary’s story is not unique in our changing global economy. There are many “Garys” out there, individuals that embody the spirit of American manufacturing trying to survive in a time that has left them behind. While the plants leave to thrive over-seas, they also take the health insurance plans the workers depended upon. Times have changed and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will now allow our workers to adapt to it. In 2014, laid off workers will be able to access high-quality health coverage on a new marketplace called the individual exchange. This new marketplace will replace COBRA and have strict guidelines for essential benefits. Additionally, depending up on their income, they may also qualify for premium tax credits in order to cover their costs. Gary and others like him can also expect to enjoy the other standard benefits guaranteed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act such as preventive care, medical loss ratio, basicpatient protections and rate review.