More than 22 percent of Pennsylvania residents under 65, and whose incomes are below 138 percent of poverty, were without health insurance in 2009. Include all incomes and the figure drops to about 12 percent.
The information was published in the Census Bureau’s Small Area Health Insurance Estimates report, released last week. Data for 2010 is planned for release in Summer 2012.
Texas leads the nation, at more than 26 percent uninsured among all income levels, with Florida close behind at nearly 25 percent.
Massachusetts has the lowest rate of uninsured residents, at 4.9 percent.
The uninsured are not only the poor and unemployed, although since 2008 those numbers have become considerably worse. Even among the employed, all is not rosy, with companies responding to increasing insurance rates by either dropping their benefits offerings or demanding larger contributions from their workers.
It isn’t a new problem. In the late 1980s I was writing about employee complaints that they were being asked to make larger contributions to their health benefits. It amounted to a pay cut, they claimed – correctly. I wonder how many of those who complained then about contribution increases are without insurance now.
A couple years ago, Adams County, where I live in South Central Pennsylvania, decided it no longer would allow spouses of county employees to be covered under the county health benefits program if those spouses were eligible for insurance at their own jobs. It turned out the county’s benefits were better than those offered by some major area employers. The county also increased employee contributions and required co-pays in hopes of discouraging workers from using their insurance.
There is something to that last part. When I was a lad and took sick, Mother pumped me full of homemade chicken soup and, when I was well enough, fresh air. I guess it worked OK. I can remember two youthful visits to a doctor, for measles when I was very young, and a broken finger when I was nearly not a teenager anymore. Maybe three. I think I fell off a couch sometimes before I was 10 and broke my shoulder. There are some things chicken soup just won’t fix.
Health insurance is a gambling casino, with the insurance industry stacking the deck so you will live long enough and healthy enough that it makes big money. We are the players, gambling we get sick or die and thereby get the payoff.
If we win, we lose.
You know the plan is working because the casinos, er, medical insurance providers, spend piles of money on lobbyists and advertising to ensure the profits keep rolling in. U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) collected nearly a half million dollars following his appointment in August to the 12-member congressional supercommittee charged with finding ways to cut federal expenses.
Most of the money, according to an Oct. 15 story published by the online magazine The Hill, came from the healthcare industry. The industry rightfully is concerned it will be hurt by expected recommendations for government healthcare cuts. The supercommittee was created as part of the debt-ceiling debacle this summer in an effort to reduce the national deficit. If the panel is unsuccessful by its Nov. 23 deadline, Medicare will be automatically cut by two percent.
The decision we must make, as citizens of the land, is whether health care is a universal right or a limited profit-generating privilege. One thing it is not is free. The questions are: Can it be made fairer, and can money be saved by so doing?
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Alleghany, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties, has submitted SB 400, a proposal that would create a single-payer system in Pennsylvania. A matching bill, HB 1660, has been presented in the state House. Opponents point out an increase in income tax to fund the program. Supporters say with everyone paying in, individuals actually would pay less than they now pay for employee contributions, co-pays and existing state and federal taxes.
At least one state legislator, Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, has said he would support a study – if someone would propose it – to see whether such a system could actually save money. There are several reputable studies already done to support the premise, but if it would help to spend some state money to prove or disprove, why not?
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Photo by Contando Estrelas
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