Taj Mahal casino workers dreading insurance loss
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- One worker had to move up a double mastectomy before her insurance runs out in a week. Another says he can no longer afford diabetes medicine for his young son, and a third may have to do without medication for frequent asthma attacks.
All three are longtime workers at Atlantic City's Taj Mahal casino, and in just over a week, the three will be without health insurance following a judge's termination of the union's contract with the bankrupt casino.
Patricia Mazur has been serving drinks to gamblers at the Taj Mahal since it opened in 1990. The 56-year-old already endured one bout with breast cancer, and it has returned. She needs to have both breasts removed and reconstructed, followed by chemotherapy.
"I'm scared to death," she said. "I've had it before, and I lost my mother to it. It's going to be a very rough road."
When U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross in Delaware granted a request last Friday by Trump Entertainment Resorts to cancel its contract with Local 54 of the Unite-HERE casino workers' union, Mazur begged every doctor she's seeing to accelerate her treatments and get the surgery in while she's covered.
She will have the operation on Monday -- four days before her coverage ends. Beyond that, Mazur has no idea what she'll do. She has researched options under the Affordable Care Act, but even the $2,000 stipend the company has offered toward the enrollment cost hasn't been much help. Charities have expressed sympathy, but so far not come through with meaningful help.
It took Mazur years to pay off the cost of her first go-round with cancer -- and that was with health insurance. Bills from her latest illness are already piling up on her kitchen table, several thousand dollars' worth.
"They're calling me every single day: `You need to set up a payment plan,"' she said. "I just can't deal with it right now. It's a full-time job just going to the doctors now. It's so time-consuming, and I don't have a lot of time now."
The canceled union contract will save Trump Entertainment $14.6 million a year. The company says it was a necessary part of a complicated plan to transfer ownership to billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who will pump $100 million into the Taj Mahal. But that investment is contingent on the union givebacks, and a long-shot plan to have the state contribute $175 million -- something New Jersey Senate president Steve Sweeney has ruled out.
"What we have here is a billionaire trying to nickel and dime people," said Ben Begleiter, a research analyst with the union. "But these are real people dealing with serious medical situations."
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Icahn has said his proposed investment would save 3,000 jobs.
Trump Entertainment had threatened to close the Taj Mahal -- the last of the three Atlantic City casinos it once owned -- on Nov. 13. But now that it has the union concessions, the company says it will keep it open at least through the end of November.
Rafael Gonzalez has served refreshments to gamblers at a Taj Mahal players' club for nearly 20 years. His 9-year-old son has diabetes and needs costly testing supplies and medication that Gonzalez won't be able to afford.
"It's a tough situation, providing the things he needs to take care of his life," Gonzalez said. "Diabetes is an expensive disease."
He got a glimpse of the future once when his son's doctor didn't write a prescription for the testing supplies his son uses six to seven times a day; Gonzalez had to pay $100 out of pocket, something he cannot come close to affording on a regular basis with four other children to take care of.
Blanca Guzman, who shampoos carpets and cleans windows at the casino, used to get asthma medication and equipment for $5. Now she has to pay $58.99 a pop.
"It's going to be hard -- really, really hard," she said. "I can't afford to go to the doctor or buy medicine anymore."