What to do about millions of uninsured Americans

Statistics can tell a story. For the uninsured, they tell a story of helplessness.

The numbers are higher than they’ve ever been and rising. The uninsured American surfs a tide of uncertainty and reliance on the whims of others. They flood the emergency rooms for care better received at a clinic. Should something serious arise, they are at the mercy of the hospitals’ bad debt collection process and potentially on the hook for a house worth of medical bills.

Those who know they cannot afford insurance flock to Medicaid programs. This means that those who can or do afford medical insurance have higher premiums and lower coverage because of the numbers of un or under insured.

The latest figures from the US Census Report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show a woeful tale of steadily increasing numbers of uninsured Americans since 2004. Indeed, the numbers are not just increasing as the population increases, but are climbing by the millions and by full percentage points for each calendar year!

The Medicaid role, according to CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), increases at an even greater rate than the ranks of the uninsured. For the year 2005, Medicaid footed the medical bills of 13.0% of the population (that’s 46.6 million individuals!). One of every six Americans!

Employer sponsored health care declined by more than three percent in the same time frame and the reason for the discrepancy between the increases of uninsured, Medicaid growth and the decrease in these plans can only be explained if we consider that the numbers of uninsured are probably greater than documented.

Amazingly, one option available to all, individual health care plan participation remained stable. These plans are frequently short term fixes and for catastrophic illness, but for those middle of the road Americans with few or no reasons to visit a clinic or doctor’s office, that is all that is likely necessary.

These plans cater to the healthy and allow them to go on with their lives without the constant nag that a bizarre traffic accident or strange illness will take everything they have fiscally as well as all their strength fighting it.

It is helplessness that drives people to Medicaid or to join the hordes of uninsured. The helplessness they feel when they begin to try to wade through the morass of health care availability. Why not just let the government take care of it for you? Why not just ignore the issue and hope you don’t get caught in the net of disease and infirmity?

If you attempt to purchase through your employer and find the cost too high or the coverage too low, and you know that you will probably not need it anyway, then why not just live day to day and ignore the nagging and growing pains? Ignore the times you really needed to go to the doctor’s? Why not just wait until it gets real bad and head for the ER?

As with most things that seem helpless and hopeless, if you take charge and take it in hand, there is help and hope. Ask, look, listen, act.

As a society, the best we can do for these people is show them their options. Give the information out at the ERs and the clinics, the Urgent Cares. Show them their choices in health care coverage.

Get the people the knowledge and see whether we, as a society need to feel as helpless as these individuals do or if we can, by concerted action, pull ourselves out of the tar pit.