Health care crisis not anywhere near the bottom
I learned the truth of it last weekend, when I bought two of Big Guy's asthma prescriptions without health insurance for the first time. The total: $200. It used to be $50, and I used to gripe about it.
I'm still not complaining about my shoes, though, because going without insurance for the next two months until Dad's benefits kick in was a calculated decision.
I could have COBRA'd, to the tune of $600 a month for the four of us. Would I likely spend that much a month for uninsured care? Possibly, but probably not. I have a stock pile of emergency asthma attack medications -- not that my insurer covered them anyway -- and his regular prescriptions don't come to $600.
So I rolled the dice. If things break bad for me, it's my own fault. At least I have a choice, though.
A trio of articles on the New York Times Web site this morning show that's not the case for a increasing number of Americans.
- Unemployment hits a 14-year high, with nearly a quarter of a million more Americans out of work in October.
- Hospitals see a drop in paying patients and more people showing up in emergency rooms unable to pay their bills.
- Families with incomes between $20,000 and $60,000 -- that's a third of the country -- are careening toward a huge health-care crisis due to climbing costs and stagnant wages.
That's why I hope health care is at the top of President Barack Obama's First 100 Days To-Do list, right behind the economy. Not that 100 Day To-Do lists mean a lot -- they're mainly a contrivance invented by political reporters and editors. But you know what I mean. It has to be a priority.
I'm not alone in thinking this. Clearly, the economy was the key concern for Americans during the just-ended campaign. But Tuesday exit polling showed health care coming in ahead of many other issues, including Iraq, according to Forbes.
Obama has a plan -- has had for ages -- and it's a good start. It focuses on making sure more people, especially children, are insured, creating an insurance pool to cut costs for small businesses and containing costs. It's expensive -- $50 billion to $60 billion a year when fully implemented -- but doing nothing is pricey too, both terms of dollars and suffering.
Keep in mind, though, that it's just a start. Any president would be foolish to think he can present a package to Congress that will be accepted without change - as a senator, Obama is aware of that.
But it's more of a start than we've seen since the Clinton administration went down in flames.
As Princeton economist Ewie W. Reinhard put it in his New York Times blog, either America's upper class helps out or the country devolves -- I would argue it that the correct phrasing is "further devolves" -- to Cadillac coverage for those who can afford it and low-tech, low-cost for everyone else.
And Reinhard also points out that there will be hard choices along the way.
It's time to start making them.
Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.