Heart disease and lack of insurance

(NBC)- Loretta Arnold is 52 years old. She has a significant family history of heart disease. Her mother died young... her father still battles heart problems. But when she started having chest pains recently, she waited 36 hours before making the decision to get help.

"You say to yourself, 'well let's see if it goes away, let's see if the pain goes away, or let's see if it eases up a little bit,'" said Arnold.

A doctor's visit, plus tests and medications could cost thousands of dollars -- and Loretta does not have health insurance.

"I have to be worried when something happens," she said. "And yet, I also have to consider my financial status."

She's not alone. A new study of heart attack patients finds those without insurance or patients with very limited coverage are more likely to delay going to the emergency room when they're having heart attack symptoms.

That's a huge mistake, according to Loretta's cardiologist, Dr. James Fang of University  Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

"If you can get to somebody within what they call the golden hour, very first hour that this is occurring the chances of their long-term survival is very close to patients who never had a heart attack," said Dr. Fang.

But that golden hour is often wasted with financial worry. The question is not "is my heart ok?" .. but rather... "how in the world am I going to pay for all of this?"

"You prioritize to keeping a roof over your head and food on the table," said Loretta. "Insurance premiums, they just don't make the top of the list, unfortunately."

For Loretta, health insurance is simply unaffordable right now... a financial condition she hopes will not cost her even more in the long run.

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