Monday, March 05, 2007

47 Million Uninsured Americans and National Security

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There are 47 million Americans without health insurance, and that includes more and more middle-class Americans. If you have a preexisting condition, affordable health insurance is out of reach even if you are a single person making $60,000 a year.

Vicki H. Readling vividly remembers the start of 2006.

“Everybody was saying, ‘Happy new year,’ ” Ms. Readling recalled. “But I remember going straight to bed and lying down scared to death because I knew that at that very minute, after midnight, I was without insurance. I was kissing away a bad year of cancer. But I was getting ready to open up to a door of hell.”

Ms. Readling, a 50-year-old real estate agent, is one of nearly 47 million people in America with no health insurance.

Increasingly, the problem affects middle-class people like Ms. Readling, who said she made about $60,000 last year. As an independent contractor, like many real estate agents, Ms. Readling does not receive health benefits from an employer. She tried to buy a policy in the individual insurance market, but — having had cancer — could not obtain coverage, except at a price exceeding $27,000 a year, which was more than she could pay.

Readling's situation is horrendous. She doesn't dare marry her fiance because she fears he will be legally saddled with her medical bills if she is hospitalized. She is quoted outrageous premiums of thousands of dollars a month and told to remarry her ex-husband or give up her real estate career to go back to a former company that has an employee benefit plan.

Even those who do have health insurance pay more for it in premiums or employee contributions, and in many cases get fewer benefits as employers cut back on plan features:

"Health care costs are increasing, and that is making employers think harder about the kinds of benefit they can offer," said Laurence Baker, associate professor of health research and policy at Stanford University.

With medical costs rising about three times as fast as wages, employers have tried to reduce the burden by shifting a greater percentage of costs onto their employees.

Some no longer offer coverage, have reduced benefits or are hiring more contract employees who are not covered under the company's plan. Among workers offered insurance, a growing number are declining it, deciding they can't afford the higher costs.

This is not just an issue of social justice. It's a national security issue. It's one of a complex of domestic and global issues that make Americans more vulnerable to terrorism; and make the potential consequences of any terrorist attack even more devastating than they would be otherwise: global warming, crumbling infrastructure, massive emergency preparedness problems, the percentage of poor Americans who are classified as "severely poor" at a 32-year high (16 million), over one billion children living in severe poverty worldwide.

We cannot waste any more time petitioning Pres. Bush for redress from these threats -- he will never be persuaded to define his own self-interest or American national security in any but military terms. We have to focus on legislative and direct grassroots (and netroots) action; and push, poke, and prod Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress to get over their pathological terror of Executive Displeasure and start listening to the people who elected them.

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