I often drop the subject with these folks because I am afraid they will end up in the emergency room, and you know how much that can cost if they are among the 43 million Americans without health insurance.
Today I have a very generous health insurance policy from my employer. If unemployed, I can, as a veteran, wander over to the VA hospital. In two years I will also be eligible for Medicare. Thus I am potentially part of three health care systems—while many folks have none.
In a crazy way, even these uninsured Americans do eventually get health care. Often they wait until they are so sick that an ambulance is needed to take them to an emergency room. Often they do not fill their prescriptions. They can then ignore the bill and give up any chance of a credit rating or eventually declare bankruptcy.
Today, unpaid medical bills rank with divorce as the major cause of personal bankruptcies.
Ultimately, the average citizen does pay his or her medical bills—through higher insurance rates and higher fees for hospitals and doctor visits.
The United States is an oddity among rich nations in not providing some form of universal health care. Mostly the resistance in America comes from conservatives who start screaming and using boogeyman terms such as “socialized medicine.”
(Does anybody remember these are the same folks who also got apoplectic about Social Security and Medicare?)
We need to put these scare words into context. Most Americans believe government has an obligation to provide roads, bridges and even airports. We don’t drive down Interstate 70 or Indigo Road and say, “Hey, I am driving on a socialized road!” No, we presume these are public roads—even when we complain about road improvements.
The same thing is true with schools. Most folks presume that government should provide some form of public education. We can complain about curriculum and the need for improvements. We may choose to invest in private education or home schooling. But most folks still believe in “public” education.
So why isn’t health care simply “public health?”
Simply put, don’t we as citizens have some obligation to provide a minimal amount of health services for everybody?
What most of us don’t realize is that we are paying about 40 percent more for health care in America than do folks in countries with government health-care programs. But in one key indicator of public health, the United States ranks 67th in the world in providing childhood immunizations.
(We are slightly ahead of Botswana in this ranking.)
An odd coalition is now emerging in support of public health insurance. Major corporations realize they cannot compete with Canadian and European companies, where the governments provide universal health care.
Small companies feel the ethical and financial squeeze—do they try to provide health insurance if it means they can no longer compete?
Many persons hesitate to start their own businesses realizing they put their families at risk without health coverage.
So labor unions, the poor and unemployed, some major corporations and the AARP finally agree on something. It is time to move toward some form of universal health insurance in America.
The debate over health care will be furious. Insurance companies and those who profiteer from the current system will scream.
But folks who know the current system is broken do need a chance to be heard.