Thursday, March 12, 2009

Healthcare Costs

Chart Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation

I'm writing again about healthcare because I feel so passionate about the issue. If you are sick and cannot get good healthcare, the rest in your life doesn't matter much.

If you have health insurance and know the full cost (including any amounts paid by your employer), you may be able to compare your own annual medical expenses compared to this chart. BTW, I tried to find more recent dates, but 2003 was the best I could find in this easy-to-read format.

My COBRA insurance premiums will cost me about $4800 a year, if my premiums do not rise. This does not include the discount from the one-time 9-month stimulus law assistance. COBRA premiums can and often do rise, so $4800 could become much more quickly. Once COBRA expires or my former employer no longer offers a medical insurance plan or is bankrupt, whichever comes first, then I am at the mercy of private insurance companies covering me with pre-existing chronic problems, such as hypertension, if I can get coverage.

The $4800 I'll pay does not include my other medical costs. I also pay about $30/month for dental insurance. I have prescription and medical visit co-pays, which on average run about $1500 per year. Without a major illness or injury, my out of pocket expenses this year could be approximately $6300. If I had to go to the hospital or have treatments for a serious illness, the bill would be much higher.

If you are possibly wondering if I would be willing to pay higher taxes to support a universal single-payer public insurance system in the US. Of course I would. Of the most economically advantaged nations, only Mexico and Turkey share the shame with the United States of not having a universal health insurance system. (source)

The US does have a partial public insurance system already in place: Medicare. My mother was on Medicare for almost 20 years before she died. She went to the medical doctors she wanted, and it covered a huge portion of her medical bills. Prescriptions and treatments were seldom denied payment. (Medicare does not cover dental health for some reason though even though dental health is of more concern to people 65 and over.) There are co-pays to keep people from abusing the system, which I think is a practical plan.

Expanding Medicare to eventually cover all Americans makes the most sense to me. Americans today pay more per capita for health insurance than any other nation in the world, and we do not have the best healthcare. This is not sustainable. We cannot continue as a nation to pay more and more for worse and worse care. It is not ethical, practical, or reasonable, and it will only cause more people to be uninsured.

Consider infant mortality. Many countries have lower infant mortality, including Brunei, Canada, the UK, Cuba, Australia, etc. The US also ranks a pitiful 45th in the world for life expectancy. (source)
Nations with comparable standards of living like France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, and Japan spend roughly between half and two-thirds per capita what we spend annually. They cover everyone and their results are measurably better.

And the supposed downsides of universal coverage, such as lack of access to sophisticated medical technologies, are belied in many of these countries. For instance Japan has lower per capita health expenditures than the United States (and universal coverage,) but its citizens have greater access to MRI machines, CT scanners and kidney dialysis equipment than Americans do. [Salon]
There are nefarious greedy capitalists who are already fighting universal coverage. They want to make a profit from the illness and misfortune of others. They will lie and spin and do whatever it takes to defeat such a plan in the US. You may know some personally. You'll hear many of them on the Fox Noise Network. Be vigilant and speak out so we can defeat these greedy bastards.
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