Mary Brown, a 56-year-old Florida woman who owned a small auto repair shop but had no health insurance, became the lead plaintiff challenging President Obama's healthcare law because she was passionate about the issue.
Brown "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it," said Karen Harned, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business. Brown is a plaintiff in the federation's case, which the Supreme Court plans to hear later this month.
But court records reveal that Brown and her husband filed for bankruptcy last fall with $4,500 in unpaid medical bills. Those bills could change Brown from a symbol of proud independence into an example of exactly the problem the healthcare law was intended to address.
Lawyers who represent Brown dispute the significance of her bankruptcy. They say her unpaid medical bills were only a small part of her debts and did not cause her bankruptcy. They say that she and her husband owe $55,000 to others, including credit card companies. And they say her financial troubles were caused by the failure of her auto repair shop. Brown said in the bankruptcy petition that her only income was $275 a month in unemployment benefits.
Brown, reached by telephone Thursday, said the medical bills were her husband's. "I always paid my bills, as well as my medical bills," she said angrily. "I never said medical insurance is not a necessity. It should be anyone's right to what kind of health insurance they have.
"I believe that anyone has unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control," Brown said. "Who says I don't have insurance right now?"
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Brown said. "Who says I don't have insurance right now?"
--Who says you don't have insurance? Your lawyer, Karen Harned. Good luck getting it on $275 a month.