“It breaks my heart I can’t insure her.”

Dena Jaramillo – a college student, a mother and the assistant operations manager at Betty’s Bath and Day Spa – lost her health insurance last month.

Her offense? She turned 22… and was summarily dropped from her father’s policy.

The practice of removing children from their parent’s policy once they become adults is common among health insurance companies.

But like almost every young person it happens to, it left Jaramillo in a bind.

As a student at Central New Mexico Community College, Jaramillo qualified for some health benefits, but found they were too limited for her needs.

So she turned to her boss, Elissa Breitbard, who owns the North Valley spa where she has worked for the last eight years.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I asked Elissa if I could get on the plan at Betty’s,” she said.

Breitbard had hired Jaramillo to fold towels and help out in the spa when she was a 14-year-old student at Valley High School and watched proudly as Jaramillo worked her way up to assistant operations manager.

But Breitbard soon found out she was powerless to help her longtime employee.

Breitbard’s health insurance provider for Betty’s only allows her to insure people who work 32 or more hours a week. Because of the demands of her schooling and her need to care for her young child, Jaramillo can never squeeze in more than 28 hours of work per week.

“It literally breaks my heart that I can’t insure her,” said Breitbard.

Late last week, Jaramillo said she may be able to get insurance soon through a state plan in that will give her coverage and spare her from having to pay a premium.
But it still bothers Breitbard that she can’t provide that service to a valued, longtime employee.

In fact, Breitbard said she can’t even afford to insure her own child through her policy at Betty’s. She and her domestic partner insure their baby on the partner’s policy. The partner works for the Veterans Administration and gets a much better insurance rate.

“I think that just shows how much everyone has to juggle when it comes to this issue,” she said.

As a small business owner, Breitbard said she is interested in talking to others about a more workable, affordable, sensible system of insuring all Americans.

That’s why she’s been meeting up regularly with other local business owners and members of the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance to compare stories and identify the problems with the current system.

But ferreting out the problems is only the first step.

Ask Breitbard about what kind of solutions she’d like to see, and she is not entirely sure. She says she favors some kind of universal healthcare that would cover all Americans, not just those who have jobs or are on public assistance.

But she’s ready to look at the problem and help be part of whatever solution state legislators, policymakers, healthcare workers and patient advocates can come up with.

“We are standing together to try to find solutions to these problems that affect us all.”

To contact Tracy Dingmann email her at tdingmann@gmail.com

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