Does having health insurance guarantee that someone has access to health care? Not really. This article does an excellent job of comparing auto insurance and health insurance, and explaining how the health insurance industry hasn’t really been able to keep up with the changing face of health care over the last several decades.
In addition to the very valid points that Ms. Poplin makes, I would also argue that the vast range of coverage levels available on health insurance policies has a significant impact on access to health care. I have friends with employer-sponsored health insurance who pay $5/week for their coverage and have $200 deductibles. But we routinely talk with people who pay $1000/month for a policy with a $5000 deductible. Just because they all have health insurance doesn’t mean they all have equal access to health care. The people who are paying $1000/month for their coverage are often struggling just to pay the premiums. And they know that if they have a claim, they’ll have to come up with the first $5000 themselves. These people are going to think long and hard about a medical worry before they seek care. The people who pay $20/month for their coverage and have a $200 deductible are probably much more likely to seek treatment quickly when a medical condition arises.
There are 47 million Americans without health insurance. That means that over 250 million of us do have health insurance. But there is no uniformity to the definition of health insurance – just because someone has coverage doesn’t mean that they have the same access to health care as a neighbor with a different health insurance plan.
Ms. Poplin is right – the goal needs to be universal health care – not universal health insurance. We could give every uninsured person a health insurance policy with a $50,000 deductible tomorrow. They would all be “insured” but I doubt that anyone’s access to health care would improve.
The 47 million Americans without health insurance is a serious problem, and one that will hopefully be addressed by the new administration next year. In looking for a solution we need to be mindful that the end goal is to expand access to health care, not just to be able to say that everyone has health insurance. And we should probably also look at the 250 million Americans who do have health insurance and make sure that they all have genuine, affordable access to health care as well.