Last winter, my dad was diagnosed with a specific, difficult-to-operate-on form of nerve cancer in his arm that could have led to the loss of his limb if it had been malignant. Thankfully, he had some of the best doctors in Houston, who knew exactly which tests and operations they should perform in order to optimize their chances of success. They acted with speed and precision and were able to remove the cancerous mass from my dad’s arm entirely, without causing it to spread anywhere else, as far as we know.
The discussion about health care reform over the last few weeks has made me realize how lucky we were: not lucky because we have the best health care system in the world — we don’t; and not lucky because the free-market system we do have led to the most efficient and effective regime to provide health care — it hasn’t; we were extremely lucky because the health insurance my dad’s employer provided him (which they changed the month after his operations because of the exorbitant costs it imposed on their company) supplied the hospital and the doctors with the financial lubricant necessary to make their medical machine run.
America is in dire need of health care reform and has been for several decades. The system we currently have of for-profit insurance firms that provide private and employer-based health care is not only illogical and morally reprehensible but also an unsustainable venture that will bankrupt America and leave those not lucky enough to be able to afford dozens of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums crowding emergency rooms across the country.
The reforms that have been making their way through Congress and garnering so much national attention lately provide a real opportunity for Americans to take the control of their health care out of the hands of uncaring, profit-driven insurance companies.
One of the largest attacks against government-run health care has been the assertion that the government will operate panels designed to prevent the elderly or direly infirm from receiving treatment so as to avoid burdening a national health system with unjustifiable costs.
Besides distracting from more legitimate concerns over health care, that fraudulent argument obscures the public view of a very sobering and far more frightening fact: private insurers actually practice a similar form of health care discrimination. That is the biggest human issue with health care; largely at their discretion, many insurance providers can and will either drop a client or refuse to pay for a life-saving operation because of a pre-existing condition.
Moreover, many insurers won’t even pick up individuals who have proven to need extensive or costly health care, further denying those individuals any real chance at a healthy life. Taking those “money-saving” tactics out of the hands of insurance companies is at the heart of current health care reform, not only because they make the most affected Americans worse off but also because they actually end up costing the insured more.
It seems that opponents of health care reform are very interested in money. Where will the money for this program come from? How much will be cut from Medicare and Medicaid? How much will it cost the average American?
Time and again Obama and Congress Democrats answer that, for most Americans, taxes will not be increased and that the cost of health care will decline even while the 1/6th of America that is uninsured gets coverage. But what is not asked or heard as often is how much our current health care system will continue to weigh ever more heavily on American pocketbooks.
Aside from the increase in cost that health care would naturally face, the discriminatory practices employed by insurers exacerbate this issue greatly. America has a large uninsured population, recently determined to be at least 52 million people. One of the only options available for those people to receive health care is the emergency room. That leaves those individuals with large medical costs that they often cannot afford, which in turn leaves hospitals with large bills that they cannot pay.
The solution? Simple really: Increase the costs that the insured have to pay in order to compensate. That rise in the cost of health insurance makes it so that fewer people and companies can afford to have health insurance, which creates an even larger pool of uninsured and more unpaid emergency-room costs. Combine that with all the jobs and insurance policies lost over the past year, and it’s easy to see the positive feedback loop the insurance companies’ profit-seeking creates.
I shared my personal anecdote because I wanted to show what can happen when American health care actually works for Americans. But that isn’t the case for all Americans, and if the health care industry continues its devastating, reckless profiteering, then it won’t even continue to be the case for most Americans.
We need health care reform. We need a strong public option with strong regulation of the private sector to keep private insurers in check — not because it’s the right thing to do but because, without it, we just won’t be able to afford to be healthy.