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Health care reform, part one

by Carla Dolce

HUERFANO-  This election season has no shortage of serious issues.  Ask Darla Haught owner of Blooming Nails in Walsenburg.  She′ll readily tell you that health care reform is “a huge issue”at the top of the list She′ll also tell you that, without Medicaid assistance, she and her husband could not provide the speech therapy needed by her daughter who suffers from various learning disabilities.  Nearly everyone agrees that health care reform is a key election issue along with the Iraqi War and the economy.  This four part series provides the facts you need to know about health care reform.  Do we need it?  What are the options for reform?  Which reform proposal is best for you?   Read on! 

    Doctors, overwhelmingly agree that our health care system is broken to the point of needing a  complete overhaul – not just cosmetic surgery.  As Rocky White states in Health Care Meltdown: Confronting the Myths and Fixing Our Failing System, “it doesn′t take a Ph.D. in economics to see that the health care system … is unsustainable.”  Rocky White, the doctor from Alamosa who is now a candidate for State House District 62 (including most of Gardner), and Dr. David Zehring, a retired surgeon living in La Veta, are just two of the thousands of doctors advocating for a complete overhaul.

    You don′t have to be a doctor to realize our health care system needs a trip to the ER.  A brief look at the number of uninsured Americans and the effects of skyrocketing costs is enough to convince  just about anyone with either a heart or a brain that something must change.

    In 2000, the Census Bureau (CB) estimated that 23% of Huerfano County′s population was uninsured.  Applying this 23% rate to our 2006 CB estimated population of 7,808 puts the number of uninsured in Huerfano County at about 1,800 — meaning that about 1,800 people in this county are not covered under any private health insurance plan,  Medicaid, Medicare or VA benefits.  The total number of Americans without health insurance in 2006 was about 47 million or 16% of the population – and rising.

    What happens to the hundreds of people in Huerfano County and millions nationally with no health insurance?  Most often, no insurance equates to no health care or limited health care available through various safety net programs that have sprouted up in an attempt to keep people from dying on the hospital steps.  But, people die anyway.   Uninsured colon or breast cancer patients face a 50% higher risk of death than insured patients with the same cancers.  Uninsured trauma victims are less likely to be admitted to the hospital and are 37% more likely to die of their injuries.   In a 2002 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-profit organization of experts that advises Congress on health issues, the researchers reported 18,314 deaths in the U.S. each year for lack of health care resulting from lack of insurance. 

    Death is the most drastic consequence of not having health insurance.  Some with no health insurance merely end up in bankruptcy.  Half of all individual bankruptcy filings in the U.S. result from medical bills.  Even the insured take this risk.  Three-fourths of those filing for bankruptcy due to medical bills had health insurance at the time they got sick or injured.  When this happens, or when someone simply can′t pay the medical bills, and the medical provider happens to be the Spanish Peaks Hospital (SPH), we all pay the price.   In 2007, SPH wrote off $1,102,494 in patient bad debts, a loss that ultimately we all pay for in higher taxes, higher hospital costs and/or reduced services.     

    Does saving thousands of lives and preventing human suffering, both physical and financial, justify overhauling the system?  Darla Haught, who worries about what may happen when her children no longer qualify for Medicaid benefits, will answer with an unqualified, “yes.”  However, if you′re an advocate for “individual responsibility,” like presidential candidate John McCain, probably not.  Yet, Senator McCain and a cadre of the most conservative business people are clamoring for an overhaul.  Why?  Stay tuned for Part II!