No American Should Go Without Health Coverage

The women and men working in America's hospitals see firsthand the consequences of having no insurance.  We know those who try to navigate their health care without the benefit of health insurance – fathers, mothers and their children – urgently need help.  One in seven Americans does not have health coverage.  For most uninsured people, that means they do not have ready access to health care.

Ron – a gentleman who came to one of our hospitals – was laid off without insurance and two months away from enrolling in Medicare when he had a heart attack.  Like everyone who comes through our emergency department doors, we screened and treated Ron, giving him the care he needed to recover from his heart attack and helping him get back on his feet and back to his life.

But there are too many stories like Ron’s that don’t end well.  People without insurance avoid going to the doctor, even when they are very sick because they worry about medical bills.  Some may visit a doctor, but then skip filling a needed prescription to save on costs.  Too often they depend on the local emergency department as their family doctor.  The end result is that uninsured patients live with illness until it becomes much worse, often seriously so.  They may end up in the hospital and face care that is more invasive, more expensive and, frankly, less effective than it may have been if they could have treated their illness earlier.  After a hospitalization, the uninsured often do not make appointments for follow-up care or follow all the recommended treatments, because that’s just another bill to pay.

The bottom line is that they need health insurance coverage in order to receive the type of primary, specialty, acute and preventive care that all of us need to stay healthy and productive – at any age.  That’s why hospitals have joined with 15 other organizations – as members of the Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured (HCCU) – to offer a proposal that would significantly expand health coverage for America’s almost 47 million uninsured, starting with expanded coverage for children in 2007.

Delaying action on the uninsured will only increase the human suffering, the moral urgency and the financial costs to our society and to our health systems.  According to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 18,000 people die each year because they do not have health insurance.  Their diseases are preventable and treatable, but they received too little care, too late, to save their life.

In this 21st Century, here in America, no one should have to go without health insurance, least of all a child.  I hope that the agreement announced today marks a significant step toward expanding coverage to those who currently have none.  Let’s get to work and expand coverage for the uninsured, beginning immediately with kids.

HCCU participating organizations include AARP, America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Catholic Health Association, Families USA, Federation of American Hospitals, Healthcare Leadership Council, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Pfizer, United Health Foundation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.