Politics distracts the goal of improving health care

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To the editor:

The biggest issue and the greatest challenge facing all Americans this summer and fall is improving our health care delivery system. However, we are being distracted by politics and frankly questionable arguments and side issues, and the vocal are drowning out the reasonable.

In the meantime, I read in our local papers about fundraisers for families who need help with medical bills and families who have lost their insurance and are scared they will incur medical bills. In pre-recession 2007 there were 47,000,000 Americans without health insurance and 25,000,000 underinsured, which amounts to 24 percent of the U.S. population of 300,000,000. Another 40 percent of the population already has their insurance provided by government, mostly the federal government. So only about 36 percent has really good private insurance coverage and they could lose it at any time.
Let’s put a face on people who were uninsured or underinsured during 2007 and 2008 (information from Families USA).

Age: One of three people under age 65 were uninsured for some or all of 2007 and 2008; of the total uninsured population, 60.1 million were adults.

Duration: Among the underinsured/uninsured, 74.5 percent were uninsured for nine or more months and one-quarter were uninsured the entire 24 months.

Employment status:  80 percent of individuals who were uninsured were in working families and only 16 percent were not in the labor force (due to disabilities, chronic illness, or serving as family caregivers).

Income:  Nearly 60 percent were in families with incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL: $21,200/year for a family of four); 52 percent with incomes between 100 to 200 percent of FPL went without health insurance in 2007/2008.

Age breakdown: The likelihood of being uninsured declines with age; 49.5 percent of those 19 – 24 years old, 36.3 percent of those 25 – 44 years old, 32.5 percent of those 45 – 54 years old and 21.2 percent of those 55 – 64 years old were uninsured over this two-year time period.

There is also an increase in the number of adults having difficulty paying medical bills – the most visible consequence of the weakening in insurance coverage. In 2007, 41 percent of adults (72 million people) reported problems paying medical bills, faced bill collectors or were in debt for medical care. The majority had insurance at the time these bills were incurred.

These figures are staggering. And we all know some of these people: they are our children, our parents, our friends and our neighbors.

The League of Women Voters in 1993 adopted a position in favor of universal health care and supports a single payer plan.  The League hopes for a solid reform bill from Washington that will provide at a minimum a basic level of quality health care coverage. All other industrialized countries ensure their citizens receive health care. Why not the United States, the world’s richest and most powerful country?

Susan Gilbert
League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties