Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fear, Frustration Mark Leap Day's Health News

I came across this great piece by David Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York, about the health reform law, the Affordable Care Act or ACA. He eloquently states:

The attacks on the legislation are often abetted by the fact that virtually no one in the general public understands what this legislation means to them and their families. In the absence of understanding, the radio talk show hosts have convinced many Americans across the economic and political spectrum that the ACA either has no relationship to them or, at worst, will deny them access to health care. Part of the problem is that the main provisions of the ACA don't kick in until 2014, so the tangible benefits are still in the future for most of us.

But it's also a fact that the manner in which the act was passed was primarily an "insider's game," convincing the major interests -- insurers, hospitals, doctors, and members of Congress -- that the act would not destabilize their interests. Very little effort was made to enlist broad-based public support for the act and now, as a consequence, there needs to be a broad-based education effort to get people to understand just what's at stake for them and their families.

And the stakes are enormous. Already, in the Great Recession and its aftermath, 62 percent of personal bankruptcies are directly attributable to the inability to pay for health care. An estimated 50 million Americans lack health insurance, including the 9.3 million adults who lost health insurance due to the recession. Even under the compromises which led to the passage of the ACA, fully 95 percent of Americans would be covered by 2014. This would be an enormous help not only for the working poor, but for virtually everyone who isn't super wealthy.
The benefits we've already seen from the law are so important. One million young adults are covered under their parents' policies; 50,000 people with pre-existing conditions have coverage; kids under age 19 can get insurance despite pre-existing conditions; seniors paying less for prescription drugs. This is what we stand to lose if we don't navigate past the Supreme Court case and the Presidential election. It worries me greatly that people who don't understand the law will be its downfall. That's why I keep writing this blog every single day. That's why we NEED people to understand.

Not only is there an unwarranted and largely false assault on the health reform law, but there's also an assault on women's health. It's not just about insurance coverage of contraceptives; it's also about mergers between religious hospitals and secular hospitals, which result in the religious hospitals' imposition of their viewpoint on the secular hospital, making it harder and harder for women to have access to contraceptives (not to mention abortions), with or without insurance coverage.

And there will be a vote in the Senate on a bill that would allow any employer to refuse to provide insurance coverage not just of abortion and contraception, but of ANY health care service that the employer finds to be morally objectionable. So not only will employers make decisions about our health insurance, but they could be given the right to decide what health care services we can and cannot have.

All the while, criminals are getting rich off of our health care system, exploiting homeless people to steal from Medicaid and Medicare. When we talk budget cuts, how much attention are we paying to finding the fraud and the waste that, if cut, would save us billions?

As if there were not already plenty of reasons to shed a tear or two without us humans compounding the basis for our despair. A growing number of Americans is having a hard time just buying food.

I spoke with a woman yesterday whose husband has severe liver disease. He's working as best he can -- he refuses to apply for disability -- but he has no health insurance. He takes home about $300 per week, and the cheapest insurance I can find for him costs $239 per month. We looked at free clinics, free meds, disability -- but in the end, we are a wealthy society with no answers for people like these. Or, I should say, no answers today. Because as of January 1, 2014, this family will be eligible for Medicaid under health reform. If only he lives long enough to see the day.

We dance on the knife's edge as politicians cut deals that appear to them to be numbers on a piece of paper, not lives hanging in the balance. Ultimately, this all comes down to what kind of society we have and want. We must never forget that, in the blink of an eye, we can become one of our society's needy.

Illness is devastating -- scary, painful, complicated. Must it also bring down our financial well-being and perhaps that of our economy? Can't we just prioritize? What good is the best health care in the world if only the very wealthy can afford it? Jennifer

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