Monday, May 09, 2005

Some Thoughts on the Uninsured…

I’m often bemused by politicians and hucksters (but I repeat myself) who try to equate “uninsured” with “unable to access health care.” To add insult to injury, there’s a perception that most – if not all –- such folks have little or no opportunity to purchase health insurance, or cannot afford it.
For the most part, of course, the poorest among us – who I believe we do have a duty to at least try to help – already have access to health coverage and health care, through the auspices of Medicaid (Medicare’s another can of worms). I was pleased to find that I’m not way out in left field in this:
According to the National Underwriter, “(m)any uninsured American adults are healthy, and many who are uninsured do appear to be getting some kind of medical care.” According to the article, over ½ of all uninsured adults (excluding those on Medicare) are free of chronic conditions. On top of that, almost ¾ of such folks who ARE chronically ill have accessed needed medical care in the previous 12 months.
The article goes on to say that such adults “are far less likely to get any care at all, or care from a 'usual source of care,' than adults with health insurance.” Tellingly, no numbers are given for THIS conclusion, which indicates to me that it’s far less of a given than the authors would have us believe.
So what does all of this mean? Well, for one thing, it’s pretty clear that there’s no health care “crisis” here in the good ole US of A. Sure, there are problems, and the cost of insurance is one of them. And the toll – in dollars and hours – attributable to illegal aliens; sorry, undocumented foreign guests -- is immense. Finally, the burden of cost-shifting from the government onto the private sector is staggering.
But those who need care generally get care, even if it’s not from their traditional family doctor. Of course, the rest of us pay for this, but that’s another post.
But wait, there’s more! According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, “(t)he number of high-income individuals without health insurance may not be increasing as fast as government statistics suggest .” In fact, those who earn at least $50,000 a year account for almost 1/5 of the total uninsured.
Now, $50,000 a year is not “rich.” But it is not “poor,” either. Certainly there are folks in this income range who have enormous debt…but by and large this is not a sector of the economy which one would characterize as “poverty-stricken.” There are inexpensive safety-net health plans available that are tailor-made to ensure that someone in this income range doesn’t lose his house to medical bills. Whether or not that someone chooses to purchase such a plan is, of course, another matter.
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