This week is Cover the Uninsured Week. Why isn’t this Cover the Uninsured Year? or Decade? Why are we allowing this crisis to go on unresolved?
While I think it’s great the the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is devoting substantial resources to exposing the problem of the uninsured, the real problem is with us for the other 51 weeks out of the year. I also worry that institutionalizing this as a one-week event is subjecting the uninsured to the kind of flavor-of-the-week status. I’m disturbed that RWJ isn’t proposing a solution–just a dialogue. Well, we can talk about it some more, but it’s sort of like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic–the ship is still sinking.
The reality in America is that every day, more and more folks lose health care. Every day, more and more hospitals and health clinics and doctors’ offices have to make the choice to treat patients whose care they may never be reimbursed for. Every day, employers have to struggle with the idea that next month, they may not be able to pay health premiums for their employees. And that’s bad for all of us, the uninsured AND the insured.
It’s clear to me that we need a systemic fix to this problem. It’s equally clear that we need to stop tying health care to work. We should be able to figure out a way to give everyone health care, regardless of whether they are working or not. If we did that, we’d make life easier for moms who want to stay home with their kids. We’d make it easier for small business owners, who want to provide health care for their employees, but are being squeezed out of the market. We’d make it easier for the poor, who wouldn’t have to worry that going to the ER for a kid’s broken leg is going to make them even poorer. We’d make it easier for health care institutions, who wouldn’t worry that they won’t be able to pay their own employees’ health care costs, because they have so many charity care patients.
We need a system like Medicare for everyone. A government-run system that will ensure that everyone in the country has access to at least basic health care–not just for kids and the elderly, but for healthy, working adults.
We need some other things, too. We need the major health care institutions–hospitals, drug companies, physician networks, whatever–to change their attitudes about pricing and profits.
But most of all, we need to say, as individuals and as a group, it’s good for me (or us) when other people have health care. It’s good for me, because I know the kids in my kid’s class are vaccinated. It’s good for me, because I know the person who sold me my coffee this morning doesn’t have TB. It’s good for me, because I know that my brother, who’s working a minimum wage job, can have health care without his employer going broke. Even if I have health care now, it’s good for me if the system changes.