Uninsured Americans

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Think you don’t need health care reform if you’re covered by your employer? Wrong.

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

You may have heard that Anthem-Blue Cross proposed raising its rates for individual health insurance policies by as much as 39 percent in California. President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have both decried this outrageous hike. A recent report from the Associated Press shows that similarly huge rate hikes are coming to individual policies in many states including Maine, Kansas, Oregon and Indiana.

“You’re going to see rate increases of 20, 25, 30 percent” for individual health policies in the near term, Sandy Praeger, chairwoman of the health insurance and managed care committee for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, predicted Friday.

But you might think that this has nothing to do with you if you’re employed by a company that provides you with health insurance. Unfortunately, all of us are affected, no matter where we get our insurance.

The Anthem-Blue Cross increase is the harbinger of things to come in employer-provided policies as well.

Last week, I heard from someone whose employer had to switch from a comprehensive policy to bare bones insurance because the insurer raised the company’s group rate by about 30 percent. So now, instead of offering employees a policy that covers just about anything, from a broken ankle to a liver transplant, the company will offer its employees a policy with an annual cap of just $25,000.

That’s employer-provided insurance that’s in danger now. And that means that more Americans are at risk of having either no insurance or inadequate insurance when a medical emergency strikes.

As a doctor, I am well aware of the high cost of medical care and can assure you that a policy with a $25,000 annual cap won’t cover much if you need hospitalization. I’ve dealt with that reality, not just as a physician, but as a mother. As I wrote on this blog before, when my daughter had to be hospitalized a few years ago, we learned too late that her school-provided policy had a $25,000 annual cap. Lucky for Kimmie that her parents are both doctors and could afford to pay the tens of thousands of dollars in hospital and medical bills that her insurance didn’t cover.

What would you do if one of your loved ones needed medical care and your insurance was inadequate?

This is no longer an issue for the uninsured. It’s an issue for us all. Please tell your Senators and Congressional representatives that you support health care reform. The life of someone you know, maybe someone you love, maybe your own, may depend on what happens next in Washington, DC.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

The best Christmas present the Senate could give us: Health care for all

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Despite months of bluster and disinformation from those who hope to maintain the status quo, 60 U.S. senators came together this Christmas Eve morning and voted to make health care available to virtually all Americans.

The House had passed its version of health care reform months earlier. Now the two legislative bodies will have to come together and agree to a blended version.

That blended version almost certainly won’t have a public option because it would require 60 votes in the senate to get one. But here’s what we can be assured of getting in any final combination of the two bills:

  • Insurance companies will have to cover everyone – you can no longer be turned down due to pre-existing conditions.
  • Insurance can’t be snatched away from you via “rescission” when you get sick, i.e., voiding the policy when you need it the most.
  • There will be limits on how much more insurers can charge you as you get older.
  • Your insurance won’t run out when you need it due to annual or lifetime caps.
  • Most lower and middle-income people will get subsidies to help pay for insurance.

For those who say the senate bill doesn’t do enough, remember that getting this passed was a Herculean task. This is just the start of reform. Over the years, our lawmakers can continue to improve the bill, just as they’ve done with Social Security and Medicare. This is a long overdue beginning to regulating the health insurance companies, which have been given carte blanche for so many years.

The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that 58.4 million Americans were uninsured for at least part of the year and almost 32 million had been uninsured for more than a year. The situation will only get worse if we do nothing. As President Obama is fond of saying, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is a good bill. And it’s the best present that the U.S. Senate could give us this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to all.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH