A black hole in health insurance

At 63, Billie Hoke is two years and a ton of worry away from the health care goal line.

She will have to wait until 2011 to join the millions of Americans in the Medicare program for people 65 and older. Medicare provides relatively inexpensive -- and very secure -- coverage through the federal government.

Hoke has no security now. She lost her health insurance in August when her employer dropped its health benefits plan. Since then, she has gone without coverage, paying cash for prescriptions and medical services, skipping the more expensive care.

Ironically, Hoke is a licensed practical nurse in the Columbus, Ohio, area, working with people who have developmental disabilities.

She did get one recent price quote for private insurance: $2,200. That's twenty two hundred a month. For a nurse who is single, making about $40,000 a year, it was impossibly expensive.