Lack of Health Insurance Hits Home

I passed a milestone in America’s health care crisis recently. I skipped an appointment with the eye doctor because I lost insurance coverage when I got laid off my job.I risked hurting my vision because I didn’t feel like I could afford the doctor visit. I know it was a short-sighted decision, but it sure gave me a long view of what America’s 47 million uninsured residents face.

It also gave me a renewed appreciation for the need for national health care reform and a better understanding of why a single-payer system might be the way to go. Early indications are that Colorado won’t be headed in that direction when a blue ribbon commission makes its health care reform recommendation to the governor next month.

You hear the word incremental change a lot in this debate. State Rep. Ann McGihon even used the term on a YouTube video posted on the website of Partnership for a Healthy Colorado  which is trying to explain to state residents how much it costs to have 20 percent of Colorado’s population uninsured.

It costs insured people an extra $934 a year, according to a new radio commercial.

The status quo, where those with insurance pay higher premiums because of the costs of caring for the uninsured, is intolerable. It just drives the cost of health insurance farther out of the range of everyone, leading more people to make decisions like the one I made – not to get treatment.

And yet politicians are wed to the notion that change in a failed system must come in baby steps. This makes as much sense as the President of the United States  telling us we already have “socialized medicine” in the emergency room. 

The need to preserve the profit motive in medicine runs deep. But emergency rooms don’t make money. Their costs have to be shifted into charges for other forms of hospital care. That’s why I once saw a hospital patient’s bill with a charge for a $120 dose of Tylenol. That is also why those with health insurance pay more when more people get their regular medical treatment in the ER.

The national myopia manifested in the opposition to single-payer health insurance or other forms of guaranteed health care hits home most when you must forego treatment for lack of money. When that happens, you see that a single-payer plan guarantees access to treatment as well or better than anything else in the American market. Doctors don’t work for the government in a single-payer system as critics would have you believe. Single-payer involves a quasi-governmental agency collecting money to pay private doctors through payroll deduction. Even private health care consultants are starting to recognize that this saves money in the long run.

The only would-be presidential candidate willing to address that is Democrat John Edwards. His national health care program would guarantee treatment for medical care, prescription drugs, dental care and, yes, vision care. A tax increase would pay for all of it. But the extra taxes would be offset by the elimination of existing health insurance premiums and the end of tax cuts for the rich.

The other would-be candidates’ plans are so convoluted that I can’t tell exactly how vision coverage fits.

Here in Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter almost surely won’t go for single-payer in the state’s upcoming health care reform. Single-payer, you see, is supposed to be politically infeasible because it hurts too many vested interests now growing rich on our pain. Ritter will likely push some confusing, private-insurance-based alternative to the state legislature in order to hedge his re-election bets and to get something passed.

Meanwhile, Congress apparently fears comprehensive health care reform as much as it fears comprehensive immigration reform.

You hear about high-deductible health insurance plans that cost very little in premiums. Supporters – usually private insurance companies – promote these high-deductible plans as an alternative to single-payer. The alternative is that you have to come out of your pocket for thousands of dollars in doctors’ fees and drugs before the insurance benefit kicks in.

Studies show that high deductibles don’t lead people to make healthier lifestyle decisions or shop for cheaper physicians.  High deductibles lead people to do what I did and what others without health insurance already do. We skip doctor appointments because we don’t feel like we can afford them.

That’s not health care reform. It’s homage to a health care system that’s sicker than 90 percent of the patients it purports to treat.

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