Monday, March 05, 2007

Lucky to be in New York

As a self-employed soul in this country I am responsible for providing my own health insurance. Here in New York State the choices are limited and this has made it difficult. But it could be worse. In the New York Times today there is an article about health insurance or lack there of, in the middle class. The woman profiled in the article is a freelance real estate agent living in North Carolina. At the beginning of 2006 she lost her COBRA health insurance. She was unable to renew that insurance because she had had surgery for breast cancer in 2005. When she tried to get new health insurance she was turned away by just about everyone and those that did not turn her away wanted to charge her $2300 a month with a $5000 deductible per year. She rations her medication and puts off going to the doctor in case he does something expensive. She has even put off getting married because health providers have been known to go after a spouse's assets to recover their fees.

At this point I had to acknowledge that New York State is a very good place to be. The reason our insurance choices are so limited is because of the strict laws imposed on insurance companies. You cannot be refused coverage regardless of your health and you cannot be charged more than anyone else. They can decline to cover a preexisting condition but only for one year. It would still be hard for this woman but only for one year. She does make enough that she could afford pretty decent coverage especially if she joined up with the Freelancers Union.

Members of the middle class have rapidly been joining the ranks of the uninsured. Many companies are hiring more independent contractors and part timers in order to avoid providing coverage. Many people now work for themselves or for small businesses that cannot afford to offer health insurance. If you've ever tried to get coverage on your own you know that costs are high and getting higher. Health care has become a vital topic in the 2008 presidential campaign and has spawned a variety of ads on television sponsored by groups like AARP.
Health care has become a consumer product driven by market forces. We need to reclaim it as a force for good rather than profit. Polls show that most people are still resistant to government sponsored health care. It's true, our government doesn't have a good track record with benefit programs and it would be a logistical nightmare but wouldn't it be worth it? Instead of spending 10 action packed minutes with your doctor you might be able to spend long enough that he or she could get to know you. If profit was not an issue we could concentrate on preventive medicine, learn to maintain health rather than cure illness. A number of clinics specializing in the treatment of diabetes have closed recently due to not being financially viable. In other words, they don't do lots of expensive tests or use enough expensive drugs. Our very lives are at stake but we do not want to give up our consumer control. As the numbers of uninsured grow we are becoming a voice too loud to ignore. Maybe we can find some middle ground before it is too late for too many of us.

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