A friend of mine was telling me a story about a lady she knows who has just found out that she has breast cancer. She’s 26 years old and has no health insurance. She earns $17,000/year and has been told that she does not qualify for Medicaid. My friend was asking me if there’s anything we can do for this woman. Sadly enough, the answer is not much. Cover Colorado is guaranteed issue health insurance, but because she has been uninsured for several years, Cover Colorado would impose a 6 month waiting period and would not cover her treatment costs until next April. She’s waiting for more test results, but the doctors at the clinic think that she has an aggressive form of cancer, so waiting until spring probably isn’t a good option.
If this girl had shopped for an individual insurance policy a year ago, when she was not facing a medical crisis, she would have found numerous policies under $100/month (I found one for $57/month with a reputable carrier and a $3000 deductible) with no waiting periods. Now, Cover Colorado would cost $192/month (assuming she qualifies for their highest discount) for a similar policy, and she’ll have to wait 6 months for expenses to be covered. It’s a pretty rough hindsight situation to be in.
I don’t know this lady, and all I know about her insurance situation is what my friend told me. But I feel sad for her. $17,000/year is not a lot of money. Once you factor in rent, food, gas, utilities, taxes… it doesn’t leave much left over. Perhaps she could have scraped together $57/month for insurance, perhaps not. But either way, right now she’s falling through the rather wide cracks in the current American health care system. And while it’s easy to place blame and say that she should not have gone uninsured, it doesn’t do much good now. Are we really willing to condemn a person to die because she made a mistake in not getting private health insurance? The fact is we have a system that sets people up to fail – health insurance is difficult to get, expensive to keep, and easy to drop.
Being told that you have aggressive cancer makes for a pretty crappy day. Just getting through the treatment and fighting her way into remission will be an uphill battle. But in addition to the health fears she’s dealing with, she’s also facing some pretty sobering financial facts. And $17,000/year is not going to go far if she has to self-insure the treatment for her cancer.
I have long been a proponent of making health insurance mandatory. However we do it – through mandatory private insurance funded with tax dollars or through a single payer system or any combination of the two – there should no longer be a decision of whether to have health insurance. In order to do that, we’ll need to make sure that there are plenty of policies to cover people with pre-existing conditions (and pay more in taxes to subsidize the associated costs), and automatic enrollment in health insurance programs. For many people who are struggling financially and trying to find ways to cut costs, health insurance is one of the first things to go. For a lot of young, healthy people, health insurance might seem like a waste of money. There’s a saying that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders – but you can require a young person to have health insurance in order to have a valid driver’s license perhaps. Take choice out of the equation, and make sure that everyone has access to the same medical care.
None of us – no matter how healthy we may have been up until today – knows what tomorrow will bring. And our current health care system isn’t a good safety net for an awful lot of people. There are too many cracks to fall through, unaffordable premiums with annual rate increases far higher than most annual salary increases, and a system that is too complicated for a lot of people to understand. A national health care system would mean that my friend’s friend would not be struggling to find a way to pay for cancer treatment right now. And when you strip away all the agendas of the people who stand to lose money if the US switches to a single-payer system, you’re left with what really matters – health care for everyone, regardless of income of socio-economic status.