Monday, September 17, 2007
Health care on the political stage
Health insurance and the lack of it are being talked about quite a bit in this already very active presidential election campaign. The war in Iraq and the economy may be bigger issues, but the health care does occasionally make headlines. It will today.
Sen. Hillary Clinton will announce her plan for universal health care today in Iowa. Campaign sources say her plan would require all Americans to have health insurance and would cost the federal government around $110 billion.
Not to be upstaged by the former First Lady, former Vice Presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards, who was the first Democratic presidential candidate to announce his plan for health insurance for all Americans, is expected to make the following proposal later today: He wants to cut off taxpayer supported health care for the president, Congress and all political appointees in mid 2009, if a universal health care plan for all Americans has not been passed by then (according to campaign sources).
Today, the American Cancer Society is launching an ad campaign to increase awareness of the health care insurance situation in this country. Instead of telling us to get a colonoscopy because it saves lives... or to stop smoking because it can kill you and those around you, ACS hopes to raise awareness about the un-insured and underinsured. (more info at http://www.cancer.org/).
I've been very fortunate. As a child, I grew up in Germany, where everyone had access to basic health insurance. I grew up knowing, if I got sick, I could go to the doctor without cost concerns (heck, I can still remember the doctor coming to see me... I guess that makes me "old"!). In college I was covered by my dad's insurance and then I landed a job at CNN, which, as part of a large corporation, has always offered a generous health insurance package. But I'm not unfamiliar with what it's like to be uninsured. I have relatives who are among the millions of uninsured Americans who don't go to the doctor when they were sick, for fear of being saddled with huge bills.
The latest Census Bureau data puts the number of uninsured at 47 million. The most recent numbers for the underinsured, those with insurance but not the kind that covers all or most of their expenses, is estimated to be another 16 million.. but that figure is 4 years old.
Last week I met a young woman named Lisa, she lives in Chicago and is one of those "underinsured" Americans. She tells me she's always worked hard - has been supporting herself since she was 18, and thought her health insurance would be cover her should she ever get sick. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with tongue and neck cancer. Her doctors told her it was most likely from being exposed to second-hand smoke. She told me that despite having health insurance, a lot of her treatments were not covered.
Lisa says her medical bills "lead to $65,000 for medical bills and credit card bills." She told me she had to cash out her 401K (which meant she had to pay penalties) and had collections agencies hounding her. She paid what she could but she says she was forced into bankruptcy. "Not only was I fighting for my life, but I was also financially devastated."
Lisa's doing better now... so far she's cancer free. But she still has to go for regular check-ups to make sure it hasn't come back. That means more medical bills. So even though she declared bankruptcy, she's still in a financial dead end. She doesn't know what the solution is, but she hopes the politicians will come up with a way to fix the problem with health insurance.
Lisa's story is just one... but there are probably many more people with stories like hers. Have you suffered financially because of a lack of insurance or because your insurance didn't cover enough? Would a presidential candidate's position on this issue influence your vote in November 2008?
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