Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health insurance should be a right

For most of this summer, we've heard both sides of the health care debate. President Obama has made reform a top priority of his first-year agenda as he tries to push a government health care option through the system. There has been vocal opposition to his plans, though, as we've seen passionate - and often angry - demonstrations against a public option. I really wonder if they are railing against health care, or just doing whatever possible to undermine a Democratic president. I don't mind disagreements about the plan, but there is a civil way to handle these debates.

But simmering below the angry debate are real stories of Americans hurting due to our jumbled health system. WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh last month featured Heather Sherba, a local 22-year-old woman who was seriously injured during the LA Fitness shooting rampage that left three women dead. Because she had just graduated from college and had not yet found a job (who has in this economic climate?) she was uninsured and, therefore, responsible for the hospital bills. Rachel Maddow discussed the issue on her MSNBC show recently. Family and friends held a car wash to raise money, and they received about $500. But that is hardly enough to pay for the entire medical expenses. I imagine she will sue the gunman's estate, but how much will she receive? What this shows, though, is a system that has too many cracks and needs to be changed.

I, too, have no health insurance because I lost my job. I have considered using Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) insurance, but obviously that is very expensive. Although the government will now pick up 65 percent of the tab, I still must pay about $145 a month to retain the coverage. That is a difficult decision when you do not have a full-time job while still be required to pay full-time bills. Hopefully I will remain healthy.

Some will say stories like these pull at our emotions and should have no bearing on the debate. I think they're wrong. Sherba's story illustrates the problems with our system. Although some will disagree, I believe it shows that health insurance should be a right, and not a privilege. How can anyone think differently in the wealthiest country on Earth?

I understand there are serious political undercurrents with every decision, and this issue should not be rushed. But there clearly needs to be a new system. I will leave you with an hour-long PBS Frontline special on what it means to be "Sick around America" and let you decide.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. - Just found another Frontline video about how several nations across the world handle health care. They are vastly different as "Sick around the world" exposes the positives and negatives of each system. I strongly encourage everyone to watch these two programs to have a better understanding of our own system and those elsewhere in the world.

(The political cartoon above was drawn in 1994 by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It doesn't seem like much has changed in 15 years.)


  1. Right on, Jimmity. I totally agree. I prefer big government to big business. Don't get me started on why healthcare is so expensive in this country...or why viagra is covered and birth control is not, or how the drug companies spend more money on their marketing and advertising endeavors than they do on the research and development of drugs...

  2. I applied for high deductable health coverage through HighMark and was turned down. One reason was for a misdiagnosis from a cracked-out doctor years ago who doesn't even practice any longer. A second reason was for breaking my leg last year. They don't know that I'm completely healed yet. The third reason was because I use a topical medicine for skin breakouts. I'm 31 years old, 5'8", 140 pounds, ride a bicycle like a champ and I can't get affordable health care. What's up with that? I'm appealing the decision. It's so frustrating. I'd like to see the panel of doctors who made this decision. I wonder what their health situations are? Somewhere along the path we became a very greedy, money and power hungry race of humans. It's very sad.

  3. Wow, have you considered COBRA? If you continued your health coverage with the O-R through the end of July, then you should still be eligible to signup for COBRA. The deadline is Friday.

    Thanks for sharing, Greggers, and good luck.

  4. COBRA is way too expensive. Not really an option.

  5. Greg, I just got something in the mail from Highmark. It said to keep it because it would help to get other insurance coverage despite a pre-existing condition. Just a thought...

  6. This may or may not help, but I've found a couple health insurance Web sites that can set you up with a plan you can afford. I hope these help.

  7. Just out of curiosity... did you guys have to pay ANYTHING out of your salary at the OR for health insurance?

    Because when I see COBRA or other private plans costing greg or mike less than 200 a month... that seems SUPER reasonable compared to what everyone I know pays for insurance... I mean, I understand wanting your unemployment funds to stretch as far as possible... but that money is going to be there, absolutely, for a set amount of time... it's not like you could just go out and will yourself a higher paycheck at your regular job if the payroll deduction is too much (unless you are in sales)...

    So, just out of curiosity, how much did insurance put you back when you were all gainfully employed in a dying industry (sorry, TV guy's voice snuck in there)?

  8. My monthly payments were about $85 at the O-R. It obviously fluctuates depending on your age and condition. I would assume yours is more, E, because you are involved in a family plan with a wife and infant? But after looking at the other Web sites, I can have suitable - albeit temporary - insurance for half the price of COBRA.

  9. Holy Bajeezus batman!

    Sorry, I just threw up in mouth a little bit...

    85 dollars a month? That's incredibly low... single or not...

  10. The way I look at it, the remaining payments made by my former employer probably slashed any potential raises. As health insurance profits skyrocketed during the 2000s, employee wages stagnated. Whether it was taken directly out of my paycheck or not, I was still paying for the full insurance bill.

  11. That's a great point, mike... Really can't come up with an argument for that.

    When my wife was working (for a doctor's office), her insurance for only herself (this is pre-child) was 500 bucks a month out of her paycheck plus whatever the office paid for.

    The plan that my company has is 980 a month out of my pay to cover the three of us.

    So, we are uninsured until we get that second income back...

    When I was in high school/college, I paid my mom 110 a month for insurance... that was what it cost to add me to her plan.

    When I was a sophmore, I had muscle spasms in my esophagus which basically was like the top of my stomach trying to turn inside out. I went to the hospital in an ambulance and spent an afternoon on an IV of muscle relaxers and then got an Upper GI inspection. Despite being insured, I got a bill for 2,100 dollars for the stuff that wasn't covered... which was more than the "premiums" I had paid to my mother for the previous 12 months.

    I asked her to drop me (I was pissed)... and I bought a "discount" plan for 70 bucks a month...

    Last year, I developed Pleurisy... which, despite being a really cool medieval kinda disease... actually feels like a heart attack. Since my dad died of a heart attack at 36, it was not inconceivable that I was actually having a myocardial infarction.

    Needless to say, my insurance didn't cover ANY of the treatment I received and I was again stuck with an 1,800 bill (and probably a pre-existing condition... I haven't really checked to see if Pleurisy counts).

    So, out of disgust, I dropped that coverage and basically settled on paying for health care out of pocket since the two episodes in my life that I have really required medical attention, my insurance didn't do sh** for me.

    So, I guess I could enroll in the insurance at work, but the amount they'd with hold from my pay would be more than what I pay for my mortgage... Or, I could buy a cheaper plan on my own, with the understanding that it doesn't actually cover conditions that affect humans...

    It's hard to back a system that you have had ZERO positive experience with.

  12. Hope you don't mind my truthiness

  13. I think the examples you cited are the reasons why reform is needed. If you notice, when we make the argument for reform, the other side only says that America has the best medical care in the world. I'm not denying that, but the costs associated with the treatment can ruin lives just as much as the disease. Costs need to be controlled, because the sky is the limit for health insurance profits.