TECUMSEH — Ian and Phyllis Gliori are among the people who would qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage if Gov. Mary Fallin hadn't turned it down.
That's just fine with them.
Owners of Gliori's Italian Restaurant in Fallin's hometown of Tecumseh, the Glioris say their household income last year was well below the $20,123 ceiling for a family of two in the Obama administration's expansion plan.
“I just don't want government in my life,” says Ian, 52, taking a break from preparing lasagna before the evening dinner crowd arrives. “I don't want their help. I probably won't take Social Security when I'm 68 either.”
The Glioris' perspective might be a minority view among the uninsured. But it helps explain why opposition to Obama's Medicaid expansion appears widespread, and why Fallin concluded that the state would be better off without it, even though the federal government promised to pick up most of the cost.
The Glioris have no health insurance. So far, Ian says, they've been lucky. They're in good health and have had no major illnesses or injuries. Ian estimates his own medical expenses are less than $100 a year.
He went to the hospital emergency room once, about three years ago, with a bad case of poison ivy. His doctor wasn't available, the local urgent care clinic was closed, and he wanted some ointment to relieve the itching.
“The nurses there wouldn't give me the time of day,” he says. “So it was at that point that I thought, I am going to take care of myself. And I have. Lord willing, I haven't been sick. I have some good home remedies. I take vitamins and try to take care of myself.”
Gliori, who grew up in Chicago, says he learned by example from his mother, who raised seven children by herself after his father moved out. The family relied on food stamps while his mother was training to be a nurse. But that changed as soon as she got her degree.
“She went to the food stamp office and said, ‘I'm done. I have my degree, I've got a job and I don't need these anymore.'”
Across the street at Zocolo's Mexican Restaurant, owner Sherry Seaberg also does without health insurance herself and does not offer it to her employees.
She says it's not a question of politics or philosophy, but of survival.
“We have very small margins,” Seaberg says. If she paid for full coverage, she says, “a taco is going to cost $15, my customers aren't going to buy them and my business is going to close.”
Seaberg says she doesn't think her wait staff and kitchen help are particularly concerned about the lack of health coverage. Most are under the age of 35 and in relatively good health. Many are working part-time and would prefer to receive a bigger paycheck than to pay a portion of the cost of an employer-provided health plan, she says.
Seaberg said she thinks the cost of health care has spiraled out of control because patients are required to bear little of the cost and therefore seek more services than they really need.
“I believe that personal responsibility has to come into play for any health care system to work.”