Thursday, September 3, 2009

Insurance is Not Health Care

To listen to the vitriol regarding health care reforms for Americans, you would think we were in the civil war again. I have noticed a number of trends in blogs and citizens meetings on health care reform and thought I needed to speak up.
Number one, insurance is not health care, it is a financing vehicle for people to pay for health care and this is available to approximately half of the United States population. In order to obtain "private health insurance" many conditions must exist such as:
1) The employer offers health care
2) The employee actually makes a living wage and can afford the premiums
3) A health insurance company serves their area and is accepted by clinicians and hospitals
4) The person is not disabled or otherwise uninsurable
5) Or an individual policy may be available in their region or rural locale
Obviously a lot of employers are not offering health insurance, which is representative of the "private health care system" we have now. As an example, I know someone who worked up to thirty-six hours a week for a nonprofit organization which refused to consider that fulltime employment, so they could exclude that employee from eligibility for the health plan. This represents a market failure in economic terms and thus encourages the government to step in to make up for private market lapses. This is an example of the abuse that happens everyday in business and why the Obama Administration is advocating a pay or play policy for employers. Yes, it is time that employers pay for health insurance or contribute into the regional pool for those workers.
Number two, it does matter when you access health care, because obtaining appropriate care in a timely manner not only saves lives, it saves society money. By refusing to provide basic health care to United States residents we are merely choosing to pay more later for manageable conditions. Examples of these are breast cancer, prostate cancer, prenatal care, hypertension, and diabetes. The current United States health policy, which does not provide fair and equitable access to primary care for all residents, is effectively saying we will pay more later for residents who have these conditions and defer treatment. For example, a young couple, in Arizona, did not have insurance when she became pregnant with twins, yet both of them had jobs. Consequently, she was not able to obtain optimal prenatal care, which resulted in a delay in diagnosis, with potentially tragic results. This lapse in treatment was not their fault, it reflects our shortsightedness as a people that we choose to pay the higher cost for our lack of effective treatment for those who need health care.
Number three, for those Rambo-types who think they can provide for their own health care on a pay-as-you-go basis, I would be willing to bet that you don’t have a chronic disease or a sick child or failing parent. All you have to do is look at the number of individual bankruptcies filed in this country for health reasons to understand the impact on people who were no longer able to pay. A person’s inability to afford health care is not some moral failing, it is a combination of poor health policy and opportunity or just plain bad luck.
Finally, all of the examples I gave have happened to someone in my family. I am sure the rest of you can think of similar examples in your families too. Can’t we put aside partisan differences and work together to improve health care access and delivery for everyone?

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