This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.
On its face, it sounds like a simple enough decision. An employer offers health insurance, and workers buy it, of course, because they know the potential consequences in opting out of a plan. A catastrophic illness could strike unexpectedly, an accident could mean weeks or months in a hospital. Protection also is typically offered for family members, at a price.
But as the Associated Press reports, an astonishing 20 percent of American workers – one in five – are uncovered. In some cases, younger workers who are healthy choose to avoid the costs of premiums, which are increasing faster than wages. In other cases, it may be a case of people simply believing they can't afford coverage.
In any case, this is not something to which the country can respond, "Well, just take your chances, then." Because an uninsured person who is indeed felled by illness or injury winds up causing expensive ripples through the economy. Doctors and hospitals, usually emergency rooms, have to write off a lot of care. But they try to minimize the damage by increasing charges for those who do have insurance. That translates into more expense for employers, and that in turn is passed on at least in part to employees.
And this is in addition to the fact that the individual who is not covered might well be wiped out by his or her creditors, thereby creating another ripple of a mortgage unpaid along with other bills and ultimately bankruptcy.
The number of workers without insurance, along with the number of unemployed people without insurance and others whose insurance denies payment for this reason or that, underlines the urgency of health-care reform, a reform that ultimately will deliver affordable insurance for all. No, this is not to say that a single-payer government system is necessarily the answer, though consideration of it should be part of the debate. But it is to say that the lack of health insurance as a social and economic issue has been moved to the critical condition list.
To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.