If you are uninsured and cannot pay for life-saving emergency medical services, who gets stuck with the bill?
A lot of people… doctors, hospitals, insured individuals, businesses, and taxpayers. One of the reasons for rising premiums for the insured is that they are paying for the uninsured.
Do we want to stick with the status quo… or do we want to live in a society where the uninsured are simply not treated at all… or do we want to move toward shared responsibility? Unfortunately, without the individual mandate, we are back to square one. Welcome back, status quo.
Fighting the Individual Mandate
On its surface, the individual mandate forcing citizens to purchase health insurance from private entities sounds wrong. That’s why advocates for health care reform pushed so hard for the a single-payer system or a public option. Then again, whether you pay for health insurance or not, if you meet with tragedy and end up at the emergency room, efforts will be made to save your life — at great cost.
The mandate to carry health insurance was deemed necessary in order to lower the cost of health care for everyone. Without the mandate, there is no incentive to purchase insurance until one is ill. And without the mandate, we could not expect insurers to sell policies to those with pre-existing conditions.
Massachusetts, under Republican leadership, added the individual mandate for its citizens in order to control costs and get most residents covered, resulting in less than six percent of residents remaining uninsured, according to Kaiser.
Meanwhile, a growing list of states, most notably Virginia and Missouri, are working to repeal the individual coverage requirement of the Patient Affordable Health Care Act.
This week primary voters in Missouri passed, by 71 percent to 29 percent, a ballot referendum that would prohibit the federal government from requiring people to have health insurance. It should be noted that the electorate was far higher on the Republican side due to a competitive Republican primary race. Recent national polls have shown a rise in support for the Affordable Health Care Act.
A federal judge this week ruled that Virginia’s case against the health insurance mandate will not be dismissed. The case is expected to be heard later this year.
From the White House blog (Aug 2, 2010):
“A federal district court in Virginia issued a procedural decision to allow a suit filed by Virginia’s Attorney General to move forward… Today’s decision merely said that the Virginia Attorney General has standing to challenge the lawsuit – which means that the court has jurisdiction to hear further arguments…
In order to make health care affordable and available for all, the Act regulates how to pay for medical services – services that account for more than 17.5 percent of the national economy. This law came into being precisely because of the interconnectedness of our health care costs. People who make an economic decision to forego health insurance do not opt out of the health care market, but instead shift their costs to others when they become ill or are involved in an accident and cannot pay.
We do not leave people to die at the emergency room door – whether they have insurance or not. Those costs – $43 billion in 2008 alone – are borne by doctors, hospitals, insured individuals, taxpayers, and small businesses in Virginia and throughout the nation. According to a recent study, this cost-shift added on average $1,100 to family premiums in 2009 and roughly $410 to an individual premium.
And many reforms provided by the law – such as the requirement that insurers cover individuals with pre-existing conditions – can only be effective if everyone is part of the system, which is why the minimum coverage, or shared responsibility requirement is part of the law.”
Uninsured Flock to Free Medical Clinic
While the politics of it all plays out on a state-by-state level, uninsured people from in around the District made their way to a free medical care clinic on August 4. Organized by the nonprofit National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC), the one-day event drew almost 2,000 people looking for basic health care from volunteer doctors and nurses. About 83 percent of the patients who go to free clinics are employed, but have no health insurance.
Upcoming Free Medical Clinics
The NAFC two-day free clinic will return to New Orleans on August 31 – September 1. This free clinic will help the uninsured of the Gulf Region as we approach the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and as the region is struggling with the current oil spill crisis.
To locate a free clinic in your state, see the NAFC free clinics list.
Photo used under Creative Commons License, via Flickr, courtesy of Rosser321