The mandate would require people to have some kind of health insurance starting in 2014, with the purpose of adding young, healthy people — like Turner — to the individual health insurance market. As the economic theory goes, adding healthy people to the risk pool could reduce the price of health insurance and make individual health insurance more affordable to people who don't have coverage through an employer or the government.
"Michael is normally a happy guy," Milardo said. "He's always active. He skis. He participates in martial arts. ... Young people tend to think they're immortal. They don't think something can get to them — until it does."
Many health insurers argue that without a mandate and a sufficient penalty, young, healthy people who don't have coverage will forgo buying a health plan on the individual market. As a result, only those who require medical attention will buy coverage, driving up the cost to insurers and the price to customers.
When uninsured people like Turner have huge medical debts and don't pay their bills, hospitals cover the cost and, in turn, charge higher prices to those who do have health insurance. Health insurers call the phenomenon a "cost shift."
Turner suspects that he might have been able to afford coverage had a mandate been in place, as long as it actually had reduced premiums to an amount that he could afford.
He works two seasonal jobs for Sequoia National Park, which the National Park Service considers a temporary job. He is not eligible for medical coverage as a federal employee.
Turner did, however, have health insurance options.
The National Park Service tells temporary employees about health coverage that is available to them through professional organizations, said Dana Dierkes, a spokeswoman for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Dierkes could not comment on Turner's predicament because of privacy laws.
The park service's employee handbook lists two health care options, which are neither sponsored by nor endorsed by the park service, Dierkes said. One option is coverage through the Association of National Park Rangers, a professional organization that offers the Aetna Affordable Health Choices plans. The other option is through the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks chapter of the Laborers International Union of North America, which offers the FlexShield health plan by IPS Inc.
Turner said it was too expensive for him to pay for a health plan that offered meaningful coverage.
He makes $16.73 an hour in the winter months from November through May and $15 an hour in the summer months from May through September-or-November. That's about $1,600 to $1,700 in net income a month in the winter and about $1,400 to $1,500 a month in the summer.
In addition to rent, utilities and car expenses, Turner also spends $350 monthly to pay back student loans for his bachelor's degree in environmental science and master's degree in natural resources, both from the University of Connecticut. He finished graduate school in 2010 and moved to Arizona briefly before taking a job last year at Sequoia.
"There's really not anything left over," Turner said of his monthly budget.
Always A Risk-Taker
The stick in Turner's head was so precariously stuck between arteries and nerves that doctors at the Fresno hospital initially planned to transfer him to the University of California-Davis Health System, where a specialized neurosurgeon could handle the surgery, Turner said.
Milardo flew out to see Turner two days after his injury, and his sister, Stephanie, flew out later that same week.
Turner was stabilized in Fresno, woozy and nauseated from pain medication as he waited for the transfer. The UC-Davis Health System said it didn't have room. Both Turner and Milardo said that officials at the Fresno hospital "read between the lines" — the UC-Davis hospital wouldn't take him because he didn't have health insurance.
A spokeswoman for UC-Davis Health System, Phyllis Brown, said it was a lack of room that prevented Turner's transfer.
"There is no circumstance in which a patient would be denied transfer/a bed/treatment because of a lack of health insurance," Brown said in an email.