Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Health Care and the Uninsured

According to the most recent U.S. Census update released in August, 2007, there are about 47 million uninsured Americans. From all apparent resources available who keep these statistics, this number has continued to grow each year. A variety of reasons exist that have caused this figure to increase over time, and currently there are efforts to help control the numbers of uninsured on both a state level in certain key areas and on a national level. Even some municipalities like San Francisco have jumped into the arena to try to draw down the number of uninsured in that city.

Aetna reports that the impact of the uninsured on society is enormous. The cost of care, when accessed, is shifted to the government, medical professionals, and the insured population in the form of increased annual insurance premiums. The Institute of Medicine attributes over 18,000 deaths per year to a lack of coverage. And 42% of the uninsured have no usual source of care—they miss out on preventive screenings and care for chronic conditions. The Kaiser Foundation notes that about 50% of the uninsured postpone health care because of cost. Because they do not receive early treatment and regular preventive care, the uninsured are highly likely to be hospitalized and die from preventable causes.

In January, 2006, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had this to say about the uninsured: it can mean that no allergist will test your asthmatic child for avoidable and dangerous signs. No gastroenterologist will perform a colonoscopy to rule out cancer when you are suffering from classic digestive symptoms. Uninsured patients suffer untreated ailments, preventable complications, and less than ideal treatments from family physicians who are unable to assist in specialized care—or they do nothing and go without care. The problem hits primarily the working poor, who cannot afford insurance but earn too much to qualify for public assistance, government-funded coverage, or “charity care.”

The Hispanic PR Wire reported in 2005 that more than 8 in 10 of the uninsured come from working families—70% from families that have one or more full-time workers. Low-wage workers are even at greater risk, as are those employed in small businesses, service industries and blue-collar jobs. Relative to their numbers in the overall population, members of racial and ethnic minority groups make up a disproportionate share of the uninsured population.

The Kaiser Foundation also has reported that new medical treatments, rising prices and growing demand from aging baby boomers are expected to continue to fuel rapid inflation in healthcare for years. The underlying health care costs are not going down. The cost of health care is going up much faster than wages, and medical costs affect our lifestyle. Also, Cover the Uninsured has said that by 2012, we can expect to spend more than $3 trillion on healthcare. Primary factors driving healthcare costs include increases in utilization of services and dramatic increases in hospital and physician services, pharmaceuticals, and technology. Changing demographics—including an aging population—and excessive regulation are also driving up costs.

In 2005, USA Today reported that Americans are living longer and are more healthy than ever, with estimates by the Census Bureau of over one million centenarians by 2050; but although great for society, the cost is a major dilemma for fiscal institutions and the government. The paper also reported that the aging of 79 million baby boomers, scheduled to hit 65 by 2011, will place major stress on Medicare.

So with all this doom and gloom, where do we go to find the answers to solving the crisis of uninsured Americans? Certainly, private industry, government, and concerned citizens need to mobilize and find solutions that do not bankrupt the country or individual families. Resolving this issue will not happen overnight. Yet, there are ways to make it happen.

We can consider some of those ideas in future blogs.

Let me know what you think. Until next time, thank you.

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