John Young

John Young is pictured here before he was diagnosed with throat cancer while without health insurance.

Photo courtesy of John Young

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‘I seem OK’

An affordable level of coverage, or any coverage at all, would have satisfied Young as he struggled to figure out how he was going to afford to pay for cancer treatments.

He moved to New York in 2007 from Atlanta because he struggled to fulfill his goal as a singer through the limited arts venues in Georgia. But after he settled into his new home in Ridgewood, Queens, Young learned the path toward his dream career would take time.

So Young joined other music groups, choirs and chorales using his high-lyric tenor voice to land him gigs that paid him just enough to cover rent, utilities and groceries.

“I was lucky if I would have $50 of money to spend on myself,” he said.

He eventually built a living around his singing that brought his annual earnings to $27,000. But Young didn't receive health benefits.

Young thought skipping out on private health insurance was an obvious choice.

“I thought, ‘I'm fairly healthy. I seem OK,’” he said. “If I had a time where I needed to go to the doctor, I could work up that money, get those antibiotics and suck it up as a one-time cost.”

That mindset is a familiar feature in the patients Matthew Weissman, a doctor at the Community Healthcare Network, is used to seeing.

Weissman, who also serves as chief medical officer overseeing the 11 clinics throughout the city, has seen an increase in uninsured patients who waited to be treated for a severe medical condition.

Uninsured people make up 40 percent of the patients utilizing the clinics, which offer a sliding scale payment plan for people without health insurance. The network accepts all people regardless of their ability to pay.

Those uninsured patients suffering the worst conditions like diabetes or heart disease usually wait until they could no longer bear the pain.

“They don't come in for their routine testing,” he said. “These are relatively simple interventions that could withstall diseases.”

Instead, Weissman said he's met patients like a woman with advanced breast cancer who avoided seeing a doctor over financial worries.

“To hear that they have to make those decisions on every single aspect of their health care is really frustrating to me as a doctor,” he said.

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