AARP Sees Health Care Reform As Vital
As the debate over health-care reform is set to reach a fevered pitch in Washington, it seems like there is no better time to clarify the context of what health-care reform means for our community.
One basic fact that has become lost in the debate is that our health-care system is broken. In the North Country alone, there are more than 66,000 people who are uninsured and over 1,100 related bankruptcies caused by health-care costs that are not covered by insurance, according to the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
Indeed, the need for health-care reform is more pressing now than it has ever been. The number of uninsured and the number of people facing health care related bankruptcies is only exacerbated in a bad economy. And, although the government needs to take quick action to fix that too -- above and beyond bailouts for Wall Street -- it can't be done at the expense of ignoring the important human need for health care.
The unemployment-uninsured connection is further illustrated by the fact that, as of February, Congressman Owens posted on his Web site that the unemployment rate in our Congressional District had not dropped significantly and is around about 9.7 percent.
People who are working or have insurance may feel that health-care reform is not an issue that pertains to them, but it is far from being an issue just for the uninsured. According to New York state, the average health-care insurance premium for a family in New York state has risen 97 percent over the last 10 years and now costs $13,500 a year. It is expected to escalate to $24,000 by 2016. The current cost of family insurance totals more than the annual salary of someone earning minimum wage. For many who are self-employed or are employed yet offered no health-care insurance, this out-of-pocket cost is an enormous financial strain and does not account for the additional co-pays or cost of medical tests not covered by insurance.
For seniors, in particular, maintaining health plays a large role in remaining active members of the community as they face the onset of chronic conditions and illnesses that come with aging. The Kaiser Foundation estimates that our area has more than 30,000 Medicare beneficiaries who reside in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties. Ensuring the continued solvency of Medicare needs to be a priority and the health-care-reform package being considered would extend the Medicare Trust Fund's solvency by nine years. Although this is not a permanent fix, it is a good first step in buying time so it can be fixed over the long term.
More importantly for Medicare recipients, health-care reform would close the Medicare Part D doughnut hole -- or insurance coverage gap -- that leaves some beneficiaries stranded and unable to afford the out-of-pocket costs for their medication. It has been well documented that when people are unable to maintain their health they wind up costing the health care system more in the long run.
Many opponents of health-care reform question the price tag and point to our nation's seemingly ever increasing federal deficit as a reason not to fix health care in our country. Yet, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the senate version of the heath-care bill being considered would reduce the federal deficit by $118 billion while the house bill would reduce it by $104 billion over the next nine years.
Over the past year, the debate about health-care reform has been hijacked by groups spreading myths about what health-care reform will mean. One thing is clear, if nothing is done to change the current health-care system, insured and uninsured, young and old alike will continue to face escalating health-care costs. It's time for our leaders in Congress to move forward based on the facts and fix our broken health-care system.
Kristin Legere is associate state director for communications at AARP New York.