NatureFirst USA

Special Reports
The Dangerous State of Health Care in America

By David Burns
Associated Content
February 21, 2007

Most everyone in America who can afford health care and prescription drug coverage would have it, and most
everyone who doesn't have it, can't afford it. Obtaining America's costly, but
necessary health insurance policies are getting progressively out of reach for
the middle-class, and completely out of reach for the poor. The system we have
today is putting poor, uninsured citizen's lives in danger, besides the
extraordinarily rich, it threatens everyones financial security, it puts
communities at whole in danger, and it even threatens our local and national economies.

The group of people in the most danger by our health care system, is the 45
million uninsured citizens in this country. The Institute of Medicine estimates
that 18,000 unnecessary deaths occur each year among uninsured adults 25-64
years old, for lack of health insurance. Without health coverage, one is more
likely to die in the hospital than one with coverage.

Because of the lack of health insurance, their health is worse than those
insured. One of the reasons for worse health, is that they cannot afford to pay
for their prescribed medicine; they pay an average of 72% more than the federal
government. Another reason is that it is difficult to get access to health care
services. Over 41% of the uninsured adults are unable to see a doctor, even for
serious conditions, due to the high out-of-pocket expenses, compared to 8.6% of
the insured. Of the people who do see a doctor, 1/3 go without the recommended
medical tests and treatments. Twenty percent say they just use the emergency
room for their usual source of health care. Poor preventive care is another
reason for their worse health. The uninsured are more likely to delay seeing a
doctor, causing a late diagnosis, and a possible worse prognosis. When they
develop chronic diseases like diabetes, they have less monitoring and exams than
the insured. If they acquire HIV, they are less likely to receive the most
effective drugs, or needed care, putting them at a higher risk of death.

Whole communities are affected when the majority of the people have no health insurance. Hospitals reduce the
number of services provided, many clinics close down, and doctors move their
practices to other locations to make more money, all resulting in less access to
needed care. Communicable diseases are a greater threat to these communities
because demand for public dollars cause many health programs like disease
surveillance, disease control, and community immunizations services to close,
and the uninsured are less likely to get immunized.

While the 45 million uninsured citizens find it difficult to obtain insurance,
the middle-class are finding it difficult to retain theirs. Over the past five
years, health insurance premiums rose 73%, while wage growth only rose 15%. For
a family of four, the health insurance premiums average $11,000 per year; that's
about equal to a full-time minimum wage worker. Because these out-of-control
increases in health care costs, fewer employers are able to provide coverage,
down from 69% in 2000, to 60% in 2005. The employers that are able to provide,
are leaning toward the high-deductible, lower benefit plans, leaving the
employed, middle-class worker with low quality, or no access to health care. Our
wage increases are getting smaller and smaller due to the employer's burden of
trying to provide this increasingly high cost insurance. Staying on this trend
will surely make retaining our coverage impossible, putting the middle-class
citizens in the same poor, uninsured category.

Whether you have health insurance or not, or unless you are extraordinarily
rich, your financial security is at risk. In 2001, over 50% of bankruptcies were
caused in full, or in part, by illness or medical debts, and of those, 75% were
insured at the time they got sick, and 68% had coverage at the time they filed
bankruptcy. Many families go without food, utilities, prescription drugs, and
additional needed medical care in the months before filing, just attempting to
get a grasp on their medical bills. They try everything possible, changing their
way of life to avoid bankruptcy, and in the end, they end up filing anyway. A
single illness or accident is all it would take, especially of the primary money
maker, or the insurance policy holder, to wipe out a family's savings account,
or put them in debt, or both.

High health care costs, uninsurance, and a lack of a universal health care plan, not only affects
individuals and families, it also affects our economy. The Institute of Medicine
compiled an extensive landmark six-part series report on the ' hidden costs of
the uninsured'. It states that the cost of poor health and shorter life spans of
Americans without insurance is $65-$130 billion per year. The reason is that the
people who do not live as long, do not work and contribute to the economy as
long. Uninsured children are more likely to suffer delays in development because
of poor health, affecting their future earning capacity, thus the economy.

Medicare costs more than it would if there were universal health care coverage,
because when the uninsured finally reach the age to enroll, they already have
poor health. A community with a high rate of uninsured people, suffers
economically due to the uncompensated costs of care, causing the closing or
downsizing of hospitals. Unnecessary use of the emergency room costs the system
billions of dollars. An average visit to the ER costs $383, compared to an
average visit to the doctor, $60. Because the uninsured do not get the
preventive and chronic care they need, they are more likely to develop
complications and advanced stage diseases, which are very expensive to treat.

A less obvious way our insurance system is affecting our economy, is that a 2001
study estimated that 3.8 million Americans would be self-employed if there were
a universal health care system. American workers are afraid to leave their jobs,
and their insurance behind. Obtaining private insurance is a costly move,
especially when you have no idea how your future business will fare. This is a
real economic cost in a society where it relies on start-ups to offset the
businesses moving off shore. The employer-based insurance system is also a
tremendous strain on business owners, taking away high profit margins, and their
ability to invest and expand.

Because we have no universal health care plan in place, America is at a
competitive disadvantage globally, because every other industrialized country
does not put the burden of its citizen's health care on the employers. Health
insurance costs are built into the cost of American made products. General
Motors reports that every car it makes is $1500 more expensive than it should be
because of health care costs for its employees. That puts us at a major
disadvantage with Japanese, German, and all other automakers.

A major change needs to be made, and it can't wait until things get worse,
because things already are worse, ask the uninsured, bankrupt, sick, poor,
dying, under paid workers, closed down clinics and hospitals, held back
entrepreneurs, even big companies like GM. All of them will tell you that this
system is not going to work any longer. The people this system works for are the
for-profit insurance companies, the drug companies, and the very rich. If
someone is not in one of those three categories, they must feel extremely smug
and safe with their job and benefits, and feel they will never have an accident
or get sick enough to have to leave their job. I hope they make it to the age of
Medicare, if it's still available.



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