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Uninsured Dishwasher Finds Some Support from Employer for Health Care Needs

Newsline photo by Melanie Lo

Luis Ventura (left) and restaurant supervisor Mati Chareonvaravut  (Newsline photo by Melanie Lo)

By Melanie Lo
Maryland Newsline
Thursday, May 5, 2005

ELLICOTT CITY, Md.-- Luis Ventura cannot remember the last time he visited the dentist – it has been “maybe fifteen years,” the 37-year-old El Salvador native said, pointing to his teeth. He cannot afford regular visits.

He said he also suffers from severe headaches and chronic stomach pain that prevent him from holding down certain foods. His doctor told him it is partially due to stress and insufficient rest.

He has been prescribed an antacid for his stomach and an antidepressant to manage his stress, yet without health insurance, the Howard County resident finds it difficult to finance doctor visits, prescription drugs and medical tests.

Ventura is one of five employees at a modest Thai restaurant in Ellicott City, Md. He works 60 hours a week as a dishwasher, earning about $1,400 a month, he said.

When he absolutely needs to see a doctor, Ventura pays for his visits in cash – sometimes with the help of his employer. His doctor gives him pharmaceutical samples to defray the cost of purchasing prescription medication on his own.

“Since we are a small business, an umbrella health care plan would be overkill,” said restaurant owner and assistant manager, Mati Chareonvaravut. “Instead, I drive him to the hospital myself.”

The restaurant does not provide health insurance for its employees, so the owners try to help them pay for urgent health care needs.

Just last month, Ventura had to visit the hospital under doctor’s orders for an electrocardiogram, or EKG, he said. Chareonvaravut said he took time from his work schedule to drive Ventura to the hospital. He said he paid for 80 percent of the bill.

“He works so that he has money to feed his family and pay for housing,” Chareonvaravut said. “So we try to help them out a little.”

Ventura lives with his wife, Jenny, and his 2-year-old son, Christian, in an apartment close to the restaurant. Jenny Ventura operates the press and steamer at a dry cleaner six days a week.

Ventura attended a primary school in El Salvador through the fourth grade, and he cannot read or write in English. He said he finds it difficult to search for subsidized health care plans because of communication barriers.

For their son’s basic medical needs, the couple relies on free health care provided by a state-funded program they learned about from their doctor, called the Maryland Children's Health Program. The program provides health care for children of low-income families until the age of 19.

With only his son covered by a state health care plan, Ventura struggles to finance his and his wife’s health care needs.

Ventura said he and his wife try to avoid personal doctor visits when possible.

“I just hope that I don’t get sick,” he said. “That is all I can hope for.”


Copyright © 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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