Commentary: Voting against health and wellbeing

Ask yourself, what has the health insurance industry done for you lately?

Likely answers include: Denied coverage for treatment or medicine; denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition; dropped coverage because you left or lost your job; raised the cost of coverage.

For most people with insurance, the cost of coverage has gone up substantially. Since 1999, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, average premiums for family coverage have increased 119 percent. Out-of-pocket contributions for workers have more than doubled during the same time period.

Or maybe you are among the 25 million under-insured Americans, holding a policy with deductibles so high that it is useless for the "little" things, like broken bones, strep throat or cuts needing stitches.

That insurance policy purchased on the open market might protect you from being financially ruined by a catastrophic medical problem. Then again, you might go bankrupt anyway. Every 30 seconds, someone in the nation files for bankruptcy because of medical bills.

Of course, questions about coverage are irrelevant if you're among the 45 million Americans without health insurance or one of the 14,000 Americans who lose their health insurance every day. Census estimates indicate that nearly one in five South Carolina residents had no health insurance in 2006. But, according to a recent story in the Charleston Post and Courier, the recession may have pushed that figure closer to one in four.

That means more than 1 million people in South Carolina alone have no insurance. And because residents 65 or older are eligible for Medicare, most of those without insurance are young or middle-aged workers, many of them with children, just trying to scrape by.

Meanwhile, those of us who have insurance must pay higher premiums and higher medical bills to help cover the cost of caring for those who can't afford medical care.

All this adds up to the costliest medical care in the world, by far. America spends 17 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, compared to the average in other industrialized nations of 9.26 percent. Without reforms, health-care spending in the United States could consume 25 percent of GDP by 2025, and 50 percent by 2082.

Those are frightening figures, not to mention economically unsustainable ones. Increasingly, good medical care will be a privilege available only to the wealthy — unless we change the system.

We often hear that Americans vote according to how their pocketbooks are affected. But in the debate over health care reform, many of those who oppose reforms, particularly the so-called "public plan," are siding with the gargantuan medical industry against their own best interests.

Perhaps that isn't surprising in light of the fact that health care firms and their lobbies are spending about $1.5 million a day to fight reforms. We should ask ourselves why the medical industry is going to such great lengths to maintain the status quo.

Much of the anti-reform campaign consists of a sleazy disinformation blitz to convince Americans that the government wants to take over health care and mandate euthanasia for the elderly. In actuality, the government-run public plan would be a lifeline for millions of Americans who can't afford insurance and, coincidentally, a boon to thousands of small businesses that can't afford to provide insurance for their employees.

The public plan also would compete with private providers and help keep them honest. Meanwhile, those with policies they like would be able to keep them.

It is sad to watch as more and more gullible people are conned by the lobbyists or the fake grass-roots organizers funded by the industry, such as the Campaign for an American Solution. These so-called advocacy groups are busy disrupting community forums across the nation because they would lose an honest and open debate.

But that is a debate we, as a nation, need to have. With little time left before elected officials return to Congress from their August break, we need to insist on a fair hearing for reforms.

This may be the last chance for a generation to address the crying need for comprehensive health care reform. Here's hoping Congress and the American people don't blow it.


James Werrell is the Rock Hill Herald opinion page editor. He can be reached at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.

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