by Pete Kotz
Illness and medical bills are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in Tennessee. Many families will face financial disaster if a major illness or injury occurs. People shopping for coverage run into unaffordable premiums and rising drug costs. And if you have a "pre-existing condition" you will probably have to forget about coverage, even though the purpose of insurance is supposed to help sick people. But the bottom line is the bottom line - corporate profits. An estimated 47 million Americans are uninsured, and many more are "under-insured," facing high co-payments and limits on what will be covered. The housing crisis and the slump in the economy are only making the health care crisis worse.
Small businesses are being squeezed between lower profits and rising premiums. They pay as much as 25 to 30 percent more than large corporations. Furthermore, if an employee has a catastrophic illness, the business loses that person's productivity and will be hit with increased insurance costs. Health care is a growing part of our economy -- now 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The good news is that diagnosis, treatment, and facilities are getting better. The bad news is that one third of every health care dollar goes to insurance bureaucracy, advertising and profits. In advanced countries where health care averages are about 10 percent of the total economy, death rates are lower, and overall health indicators are higher. A recent Newsweek article points out that average health spending from all sources, government and private, is almost equal for all economic groups, from the richest to the poorest, hovering at $4,500 per year. Costs for individuals in each economic group vary, of course. That's why we have insurance, paid for by employers, individuals, and government in some combination, to even out the risks and expenses. Social Security and Medicare have a good reputation for efficiency. They are a lot better than private insurance with its bureaucracy, advertising and need for profits. Many people are advocating a "Medicare for all" system, usually termed "single payer." Polls indicate that the majority of people are willing to try this approach. Provision of health care would be both private and voluntary, as in Medicare. But it would cover everyone, and it would be affordable for everyone, depending on ability to pay. During this election year both major candidates have put forward health care plans. The Kaiser Family Foundation has issued a good summary based on the candidates' own web sites. But the problem will not magically disappear after the election. It will be up to citizens to keep the pressure on the new President and Congress. Health care is perhaps the most dramatic illustration of how we are all in this together. Guaranteed affordable choice in health care must be a right for all rather than a privilege for some.