Her only son is starting college this fall. Monthly expenses eat up their paychecks: thousands of miles driving to work, groceries, car insurance, their son's health insurance.
"With premiums rising higher all the time, it doesn't look like Vern and I will ever get insurance. We've got Joshua to put through college, and by the time he gets through, the premiums will be so high, we'll probably just have to tough it out."
'We're the wealthiest country in the world'
Like the DeLungs, most uninsured West Virginians work. Many work more than 40 hours a week.
Uninsured people are everywhere, said Pat White, West Virginia Health Right administrator.
"It could be your next-door neighbor who lost her insurance coverage when the employer dropped the insurance," she said. "Or somebody who has a pre-existing medical condition and no insurance plan will take him. Or maybe a friend who lost their job because their employer downsized, and they're on unemployment and can't afford the premium. It could be the older woman who got divorced and can't keep up the insurance.
"It could be the person who's trying to start a small business and is barely scraping by. The elderly person who needs medication that costs hundreds every month, that Medicare doesn't pay for.
"The whole subject of health-care costs is maddening," White said. "We're the wealthiest country in the world, but we can't do anything as simple as providing medicine for people who need it. Seems like our priorities are backwards. And the numbers just continue to grow."
Many people don't want to talk about it, especially people who have lost their insurance. "I don't want my name in the paper," said a woman whose husband lost his job at Union Carbide after Dow took over. "We're in our 60s, and when you're laid off with no insurance, it's devastating.
"We wait and hope. West Virginia isn't overflowing with jobs. In the meantime, we're getting by. We live in a mobile home. We don't drink or smoke. I cut my husband's hair. We save pennies where we can."
"That's one of the saddest things about this whole insurance situation," said Pore of the governor's cabinet. "A lot of people are ashamed of the fact that they don't have health insurance. They feel that it's a failure on their part. They don't realize that this is happening to so many people."
Five years from now
The Sunday Gazette-Mail asked the Insurance Commission to calculate what West Virginia insurance prices might be in 2008 if health-care costs keep rising at the same rate. The commission found that:
The Insurance Commission's Fred Holliday projected the prices, using figures supplied by the companies. Mountain State Blue Cross is the lower figure. The higher figure is Continental Insurance.
A three-month slight slowdown in health-care price inflation doesn't change his projections, he said. "Prices often go down temporarily, then take off again," he said. "We'd need more than three months of data to call it a trend."
The Rev. James Patterson, pastor of the Institute Church of the Nazarene, is one of the people teetering on the edge of no insurance. He is diabetic. Every month, his church scrapes together $850 to pay his health insurance. As health costs rise, "it could become out of reach," he said.
At the same time, many of his congregation members and neighbors have their own insurance troubles. "I'm seeing people who are getting laid off from Dow Chemical or Verizon, people my age, who have health problems without adequate insurance," he said.
"Dow Chemical is not going to be able to pay twice what they're paying now for health care," Patterson said. "They can't do that. Nobody can."
How high could health bills rise? The state Health Care Authority supplied statewide average prices for hospital bills only. These prices do not include doctor fees, medication, or other fees:
That's just the hospital bill. Those prices do not include doctor bills, lab tests, anesthesia, or whatever else is involved.
To cover such costs, insurance companies would hike their rates. More people would drop their insurance. "It's a terrible vicious cycle," said Carte, CHIP director.
'Is it right for people not to have access to care?'
"It comes back to the fundamental question of right and wrong," Patterson said. "Under biblical principles, is it right for people not to have access to care? We say that we're a God-fearing country, and 'In God We Trust.' If that's true, then certainly there are people who could find it within their power to do something about this."
Gov. Bob Wise has ordered his department heads to do something. Early in his administration, he gathered them together and told them he wanted to insure every person in the state. He ordered them to work together.
"He has been very adamant about that," said Sonia Chambers, Health Care Authority chairwoman. "We don't have time or money to waste."
After taking stock of the situation, they decided to try to cut the number of uninsured West Virginians in half within five years.
It can't happen soon enough for Cynthia Ray. "Once upon a time, I had insurance, very good insurance," the Fairmont resident said. "So I know the difference between having insurance and not." Ray was a union coal miner before she was laid off in 1995.
Now she has cysts on her kidneys, she said. She runs her own business, selling pottery in antique malls. "For a while, it looked like a go. But now, with the rest of the economy down, it's not holding its own as well as I'd hoped.
"A month ago, I went to my doctor. He still insists that I have an MRI, and I still can't afford it. But we still make sure that I'm alive, that I'm not going to keel over."
Last winter, she was furious, she said, to see the Legislature loan state doctors $24 million of the tobacco settlement money to help start the doctors' insurance fund. "I didn't know how many people in West Virginia were like me, uninsured, but I guessed there were lots of them, maybe even hundreds of thousands."
Ordinary people need that help, too, she said. "Other industrialized countries have health care for everyone. We need to catch up. When they say the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, part of life is being able to live. We're all going to die, but we don't need to die from lack of medical care."
This month, she got on the Internet and found Pennsylvania has started a new prescription-drug insurance program for people over 64. "And I think, gee, maybe I should move to Pennsylvania. It's 30 minutes away.
"But the people in West Virginia, not all of us can move to Pennsylvania. We need something here. And a lot of us need it now."
Staff writer John Heys contributed to this story.
To contact staff writer Kate Long, use e-mail or call 348-1798.
Monday in the Charleston Gazette: What is the Wise administation doing to help?
For extra charts, details, and links, visit www.wvgazette.com