Health Insurance

        The US Congress passed a bill to increase the number of uninsured children covered under S-CHIP, the States Children's' Health Insurance Program, from 6.6 million to ten million, at an estimated cost of $35 billion over the next five years. President Bush, as promised, vetoed the bill. Congress attempted to override the veto, but failed by a mere 13 votes.

        This was only President Bush's fourth veto in the more than six and a half years he's been in office, the smallest number of vetoes of any president going back to James A. Garfield, who made none--but then, Garfield was assassinated after only six months in office. Bush said the expansion of the program was too expensive and would lead to "some kind of socialized medicine."

        Other opponents of the bill made the claim that some people who are paying for health insurance, or employers who are paying for their employees' insurance, would drop it in favor of getting the government-paid insurance for their children.*

        Beg pardon? People will drop private insurance for their entire families in favor of government-paid insurance for their children, leaving themselves dangling uncovered? Can we have a reality check here, please? That's an absurd claim on the face of it. Employers who dropped employee coverage in order to dump their employees into the S-CHIP program, which would only cover their children, would face rebellion and law suits.

        All of which brings me to a bigger issue:

        The current US population is estimated at about 303 million. Of them, approximately 47 million have no health insurance, and another perhaps 14 million don't have sufficient coverage to cover their bills in the event of catastrophic illness. That's 61 million people, or roughly one out of every five Americans--in a country that claims to offer the world's best health services.

        What's wrong with that picture?

        What happens when underinsured people get hit by an illness that their insurance won't cover? They have to declare bankruptcy. Indeed, health care bills caused by under-insurance is the largest single cause of bankruptcy in this country.

        And what do the uninsured do when they get sick? Mind you, most uninsured people also can't afford routine doctor visits. They do one of two things. Either they visit hospital emergency rooms, which is the most expensive way to get health care, and don't pay for it because they can't, thereby sticking everybody else with the cost of their care. Or they don't get care at all. Instead, they allow something that could be taken care of relatively inexpensively if treated early on, to get worse until it becomes very expensive to deal with. And they maybe die as consequence.

        I need someone to explain a couple of things to me.

        How is it that bankruptcy, emergency room treatment for non-emergencies, and expensive treatment for ailments that could have been treated more economically if dealt with earlier, are less costly than universal coverage?

        Why is having 47 million Americans without health insurance coverage, and another 14 million with inadequate coverage, preferable to having "some kind of socialized medicine"?

*Disclosure statement: I have friends who are horrified by the fact that I don't have health insurance. I don't have an employer who will pick up part or all of my premiums, I write science fiction for a living. I don't make enough money to pay the premiums myself. Hell, some years my net income isn't big enough to cover individual coverage even if that's the only thing (other than taxes) that I spend money on. So is this issue of personal interest to me? You better believe it. I don't dare get sick.

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