Roxy Carr is where any of us could be: medically bankrupt. She’s both the face of our nation’s healthcare crisis, and symptomatic of the most important aspect of that crisis, affordability. While private insurance companies enjoy record profits, average Americans find they can barely afford medical care, and they are one crisis away from seeing their life savings gone. Coincidence? We learn more about just how unaffordable Massachusetts' healthcare reform plan is for residents, why a Minnesota plan is even worse, and how California's plan is failing as a result. Meanwhile, Connecticut unions fight for the kind of SinglePayer insurance that makes care affordable--and the national AFL-CIO endorses a similar proposal.
She was making $6.25 an hour working for an employer that didn't offer health insurance, and she certainly couldn't afford to purchase her own policy. After paying rent and utility bills and putting gas in the car and food on the table, there was nothing left to pay for the expensive medications she needed to manage her diabetes.
"I juggled bills to afford medications," Carr said. "I was robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Carr couldn't juggle forever. Complications from her diabetes eventually landed her in the hospital, adding yet another bill to the growing stack on her table waiting to be paid. One day, she woke up and discovered she was more than $45,000 in debt. So she did the only thing she believed she could do: She filed medical bankruptcy.
While Roxy had no insurance, many people with insurance have similar problems in the face of deductibles, co-pays, and uncovered costs. In fact, three-quarters of those bankrupted by illness had insurance, according to a Harvard study.
So we drive our patients to bankruptcy, and then what happens to them?
The bankruptcy wasn't the end of Carr's story. Still uninsured, she ended up in an emergency room one night when she fell ill. She was diagnosed with shingles - a skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. An emergency room doctor examined her, ran some tests and gave her a shot for pain. She was there for three hours, and the bill came to $3,700. Carr could have received the same treatment in a doctor's office for less than $200.
That’s right we send them into bizarro world where they have to spend even more money on health maintenance.
As Roxy learned, the big problem with our health system is affordability—so many interests are sucking care dollars out of the system that regular, working Americans can’t afford care, especially if they actually get sick.
Massachusetts has led the way in healthcare reform lately, implementing the dastardly “individual mandates” that require people to buy insurance from private insurers, and impoverish themselves while enriching the insurers. Who’s hit hardest? The middle class:
The economic pressure in the state's new plan falls on those in the middle, the almost poor, several experts told The Standard-Times.
"For the low-income family earning $36,000 a year before taxes, how do they pay what amounts to 6 to 8 percent of their income for health care, perhaps $2,400 a year?" asked Alan Sager, a professor of health policy and management at the Boston University School of Public Health.
Health costs can be crippling, even to families with health insurance, writes Yale University professor Jacob S. Hacker in his 2006 Oxford University Press book, "The Great Risk Shift."
In 2003, 82 million Americans were without health insurance at some point, Mr. Hacker reported.
"And yet, these ordinary Americans at extraordinary risk have for years remained largely unnoticed, an inconvenient blot on the heralded success story of the American economy," Mr. Hacker wrote.
As people learn about these problems in Massachusetts, copy-cat programs in states like California] are starting to run into trouble:
As California lawmakers work out a health insurance overhaul that could contain a similar requirement for individuals, advocacy groups here say the Massachusetts example raises questions about whether it's possible to come up with affordable health insurance for people to buy on their own.
"Our big concern is that without guarantees that costs will be controlled, we're certain to stick some patients with health plans that simply aren't affordable," said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Los Angeles, an organization that wants the state to limit how much insurers can charge
It’s even worse than that in a Minnesota proposal. The plan actually wants to garnish employees wages to pay for their private insurance. Not only do are you MANDATED to buy insurance, but they will helpfully take it our of your paycheck for you. You won’t be surprised to hear that:
The proposal grew out of a task force of insurers and health care providers from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, HealthPartners, Mayo Clinic and elsewhere.
The opposition is being led by the Minnesota Nurses Association. Go nurses!
More and more labor unions are supporting the answer to the affordability problem—a SinglePayer system that does away with the bloat of the insurance industry middleman. Connecticut’s unions are the latest] to join the fight. Nationally, the AFL-CIO recently endorsed Medicare for All, and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee will affiliate with them.
If the unions don’t succeed, we might see more of the global outsourcing of medicine, a/k/a “medical tourism,” that has devastated other industries in this country.