Monday, April 04, 2005

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES has an article about the sacrifices more and more Americans are making to pay for health insurance.

As employees continue to absorb more of their healthcare costs, an increasing number of people — even healthy ones — are drastically altering their lives simply to hold on to their insurance. They are delaying homeownership, putting off saving for their children's education, or otherwise sacrificing their financial security to guard against a catastrophic medical bill.

Many people, especially lower- and middle-class workers and the chronically ill, are beginning to spend a once-unimaginable share of their income on health coverage. In some cases, health costs have become the single biggest expense in family budgets.

Between 2000 and 2004, the number of people spending more than 25% of their earnings on healthcare — a figure normally associated with homeownership — rose by nearly a fourth to 14.3 million people, according to Washington, D.C.-based Families USA, a healthcare advocacy group. Over the same period, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, health premiums rose an average of 59%; federal data show the average employee's earnings rose 12.4%.

Even having a good job is not the protection it once was. Employers keep increasing the employee contribution portion of their insurance plans, in response to ever-rising premiums. Some employers are starting to cap the amount they will contribute, no matter how high the premiums go. And others are dropping their health insurance plans altogether.

With all this, even solidly middle class Americans are being affected.

[Glenn Melnick, a Rand Corp. economist and a USC professor of healthcare finance], says he expects the profile of the uninsured to change over the next few years to include more middle-class families with stable jobs. The most recent census data shows that 14% of those without insurance now make between $25,000 and $50,000 a year. A recent California HealthCare Foundation survey found 17% of Californians could not pay one or more medical bills in the last year.

I can't help but wonder what Pres. Bush has in mind when he talks about creating an "ownership society" when an ever-increasing number of Americans who actually are in the ownership class are finding their position more and more tenuous, and those Americans who have less financial stability are seeing their aspirations to buy a home or start their own business fade into the distance.

It seems pretty obvious to me that Pres. Bush does not have a clue what people who are losing health insurance and choosing to go through the winter without heat are up against. He doesn't have a clue because he's never been in that position and he doesn't know anyone who has been in that position. And even if there should be a security break in that carefully maintained bubble he lives in, and he actually did find out about people who have to gamble with their health to pay the heating bill, or gamble with getting sick because they kept the heat off to pay their health insurance, he wouldn't care.

No comments: