United States is not the greatest place to get sick

Posted Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 12:00am

"Hi, my name is Kim, I'm 36 years old and hope to be a future breast cancer survivor from Long Island. My chances for survival aren't as good as they might be, however, because like millions of Americans, I've gone for years without health insurance that would have allowed me to take preventative medicine. What will you do as President [of the United States] to make low-cost or free preventative medicine available for everybody in this country?" Kim submitted this question via YouTube video in a democratic presidential debate.

Kim's plight is similar to the 47 million Americans without health insurance (more than the entire population of California according to the U.S. Census Bureau) because of the rising cost of insurance premiums. Lack of health insurance denies citizens all but the most basic of medical services. If a crisis were to arise such as the diagnosis of a chronic illness or an accident resulting in a disability, these Americans would be left to pay for care which far exceeds the budgets of middle-class families. According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance company, the approximate cost of an emergency room visit is $1,029. Other costs, such as hospital stays and operations, can easily bankrupt hard-working American families.

Among the numerous causes of rising health care costs are the unregulated interests of insurance companies. Most families are able to afford insurance through an employer who pays part of the insurance premium. Because neither party pay the entire cost, big insurance companies are allowed to charge shocking prices. Those who are most greatly affected by these costs are those who are unemployed, between jobs, or whose jobs do not provide insurance, forcing them to pay the entire cost with no assistance.

Insurance companies not only make health care unaffordable but unattainable to many. When applying for insurance, thousands of applicants are turned down because of pre-existing medical conditions, including myself. When I experience stress, I unconsciously become tense in my stomach which caused it to become inflamed. My stomach aches were nonexistent after one visit to the doctor and taking Nexium, a medication often used to treat heartburn, but because I am required to report this incidence in health insurance applications, I can only afford a state care plan with extremely limited coverage.

Our system of health care is full of flaws. According to the National Coalition on Health Care's (nhch.org) findings, "Although nearly 47 million Americans are uninsured, the U.S. spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens."

Nationalized health care is a system already adopted by Canada and many European nations. This system provides coverage to all citizens for free, funded in the same way our schools are -- through taxation. Not only does this allow universal access to medical treatment, but it requires all health care be administered equally to all citizens - no procedures are denied to a patient due to lack of funds.

Many are wary of such a system as they claim Canadians (as well as citizens of other countries) sometimes wait to receive medical treatment, which is potentially dangerous in the case of serious ailments. This system would limit competition between health care providers which, opponents claim, lead to poor-quality health care. However, www.canadian-healthcare.org states- " Canada does boast one of the highest life expectancies (about 80 years) and lowest infant mortality rates of industrialized countries." Yet another statistic by the National Coalition on Health Care states, "Nearly 30 percent [of Americans] say someone in their family has delayed medical care in the past year ... Most say the medical condition was at least somewhat serious", proving that Canadians are not the only citizens who may have to wait for treatment.

Gail Scoville, a Carbon High School teacher and Canadian resident for 27 years, tells about her experience with socialized medicine: "The pros are, of course, that anyone can get health care regardless of their ability to pay. You could go the doctor for medication, surgery, whatever, no matter how much money you make or do not make." She also states, however, " ... people ... abuse the system. Some people will go to the emergency room because they have a cold; silly things, that they could either take care of themselves or wait until the next day and go see a doctor."

When asked if Canadians must wait for an extended period, she states, " ... there are waiting lists for surgeries and then they take those, of course, on emergency basis. So, for example, my dad needed heart surgery and since it was an emergency they put it at the top of the list. But if they don't consider it an emergency then they are added to the list. I believe it's the same thing here, though ... you'll go to a specific hospital to have heart surgery [that other hospitals don't have]."

Scoville had her first experience with the American health care system shortly after immigrating to the United States, "My son, who was four years old, needed surgery because he had a cyst in his ear, and it was cheaper to fly to Canada and back, including the flight, and have the surgery there than to have the surgery here."

Should Americans adopt this type of system? Scoville comments, "Canada has had this system forever, and for the US to take that system on now on top of everything else they have, I don't see how they would pay for it. And the way people abuse the system ... and the population of the US is so much larger than Canada that I don't see how the hospitals would handle that kind of thing."

Due to its prominent place in the next election, many candidates for president are offering solutions for our broken health care system. Most offer a program that does not lead to complete socialization, including John McCain, a republican, staying true to the competition-based system. McCain's plan would allows families to purchase insurance from anywhere in the U.S., with tax credits making insurance more affordable. McCain also emphasizes a plan paid for by the family, not employers, which differs greatly from the plan of the democratic candidate, John Edwards. Edward's plan would call for businesses to either provide insurance for their employees or contribute to payment of private insurance.

Rudy Giuliani, a republican, proposes a plan that would also steer away from employer-based coverage and give families tax credits as incentives to purchase their own insurance. Both democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would not allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Obama, however, supports voluntary enrollment in a nationalized health care system, while Clinton's plan promotes lowering private insurance rates.

The purpose of this article is not to argue that nationalization of health care is the only option. I believe that as Americans we can build our own, highly successful model of health care that may borrow from the systems of Canada and Europe, but can use their experiences to avoid the same mistakes. Perhaps the answer lies entirely outside of national health care, but regardless, our health care system needs immediate, drastic change.

Denial of care based on finances is an atrocity, the very idea turns basic human rights - the right to be treated when sick, the right to live- into something given to the most privileged, leveling the value of a life to a person's monetary value. How can we claim to be inspired by a constitution whose basic rights includes, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" when our citizens are sick, dying or at risk of being sick everyday because they cannot afford health insurance?

An opponent to this argument may state that this is not accurate, that we provide basic health care regardless of financial means. This argument is faulty, however, because basic life-saving procedures guaranteed to those without insurance rarely solve any chronic or severe medical ailment.

Regardless of this, medical care should be equal to all citizens regardless of their station in life. Obviously, it is not the government's fault if treatment fails to work, but citizens should at least have access to treatment.

As an industrialized nation, the health and wellness of our nation should be our top priority and no one should be denied care because it is unaffordable.

How can the most powerful nation in the world serve as an example of a functioning democracy when millions of Americans are denied the fundamental right of health care?

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