In 1999, 70.4% of Americans under age 65 had employer sponsored health insurance. By 2005-2006, that number had fallen to 63.2%, and the trend is likely to continue as health care costs rise, taking health insurance premiums along for the ride.
Health care has become the 800 pound gorilla in the room in our current political arena in Colorado and nationwide, with every presidential candidate having to address the issue and present workable solutions. More than 45 million Americans are without health insurance – there is clearly a serious problem, and yet reaching a solution that everyone can agree upon seems next to impossible.
One of the major problems is how politicized the whole issue has become. “Universal health care” has become a buzz word akin to “gay marriage” in the last election, with people either strongly opposed or strongly in favor, yet with far more emotion than reason involved.
Another problem is that even though the numbers are declining, the majority of Americans under 65 still have employer sponsored health insurance. They can’t relate to the ones who don’t. We frequently hear people talking about how annoying it is that their premiums increased from $40 per paycheck (twice a month) to $55. They truly have no idea how expensive health insurance is, how much their employers are paying on their behalf, or how difficult it could be to recreate their coverage were their employer to join the growing ranks of companies that no longer offer health insurance as an employee benefit.
Health insurance is one of those things that nobody really thinks about until there’s a problem. If you’re going along with your employer paying most of your premiums, covering pre-existing conditions, and giving you access to a decent network of providers, you can’t grasp the seriousness of the current health insurance crisis. You may be annoyed that your copays went up by $10, but you’ll probably raise your eyebrows when people refer to the situation as a “crisis.” But if your employer stops offering coverage, or stops paying premiums for dependents, or you decide to change jobs and the new employer doesn’t offer coverage, then you see the big picture.
It’s time to level the playing field with regards to health insurance. We need to decide whether we want it to be an employer responsibility, a government responsibility, or a personal responsibility. And then the same rules have to apply to everyone. Health care should not be structured along capitalistic economic laws of supply and demand. A person’s financial and employment situation should not dictate whether a cancer diagnosis is fatal – and yet sadly, it often does.
Our current system is a perfect example of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Every state has different laws regarding health care. Every employer can decide whether to offer coverage, what to offer, and how much of the premium they will pay. People can choose to go uninsured. People qualify for Medicaid but don’t know it and remain uninsured. People without health insurance use emergency rooms as primary care, and clog the system designed to deal with true emergencies. People who buy their own health insurance have to hope they don’t pick an unscrupulous agent, and have to deal with medical underwriting that varies tremendously from one insurer to the next. Basically, we’ve ended up with a system that very few people fully understand because of how complex it is. Since every-ones coverage situation is different, it’s virtually impossible to have open dialog about how to fix the health care problems facing so many Americans. We truly do not understand each other’s concerns.