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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Don’t sneeze on the uninsured

    Sam Feldmancolumnist
    Sam Feldman
    columnist

    Health care in this country is coughing and may need a new lung. From a massive number of uninsured to unconscionable profits, we need a cure for this ailing system.

    Health care should be provided to every man, woman and child in this country. Period. We are the richest country, we are the center of health innovation and we have the power to create an incredible system of medicine open and accessible to all Americans.

    The reality is far from that rosy. In fact, our health care system has so many gaps that it resembles Mike Tyson’s mouth after a fight. An estimated 45 million Americans are without health insurance, and many more who have insurance are unable to use it because of cost.

    Among the uninsured, a vast majority are employed; the rolls of the uninsured are filled with working Americans who cannot afford the fees and those without company-sponsored benefits.

    But central to this deadly serious system are health management organizations – known by their vilified acronym, HMOs. In the first half of 2005, HMOs reported a $7 billion profit – which was up 21.2 percent over the same period in 2004.

    If profits continued without a likely increase, it means a $14 billion dollar profit that year for an industry most of us depend on when we’re sick. And the profits HMOs make are not adding value to the state of national health care. They are breaking a system we need to live.

    Some argue that health care companies have a right to make profit, which I would find acceptable if the profits were not so outrageous. But $14 billion in an industry devoted to keeping our workforce alive is purely wasted money.

    That $14 billion could influence more than just a few desperate cases. That amount of money could fund coverage for millions of the uninsured.

    Beyond the use or misuse of the money HMOs receive, the uninsured are looking in at the doors of health care and entering, but at a higher cost to all of us.

    The uninsured need to use health services too, but instead of visiting a family doctor, often they come into emergency rooms and urgent cares, which cannot refuse service to those unable to pay.

    So our emergency rooms are clogged with people who fall through the cracks of the health care system. Bringing them into the system will lower the cost of their health care, save our hospitals millions of dollars and eventually cost all of us less.

    So what hope do we have, if any, of correcting this failing system?

    For one, we could make all health care companies operate as nonprofit businesses, which means each would have to funnel

    I hope for the sake of the 45 million uninsured that their cough is just a cough.

    profits back into their organization. It would provide more auditing accountability and ensure that health care is managed by a board of directors not motivated by profit, but motivated only by providing the highest quality health care.

    We could also set up a system similar to the program announced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, which would essentially subsidize insurance for the working uninsured. The Governator’s plan is ambitious, and I hope he can pass it through the California State Legislature.

    Finally, we could be truly brave and create a national health care system. Working people and their families would be covered under the system, whether they move jobs or companies or lose their job for a short period of time.

    Families without at least one member working would have to apply for benefits depending on their circumstances. Medicaid for retired seniors and the disabled would still exist, of course, but as a part of that system.

    The national health care system would provide complete health coverage from birth to death of every citizen in this country. It would be paid for through tax revenue and, for employees covered under the plan, a percentage tax on their wages.

    For now, however, the uninsured are going to continue to use services at an increased cost, HMOs are going to continue to build massive profits and the health of our country will be much poorer because of it.

    I hope for the sake of the 45 million uninsured that their cough is just a cough.

    Sam Feldman is a political science junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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