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Americans Without Health Insurance Essay

2351 words - 9 pages

The Uninsured States of America

Nearly 48 million Americans had no health care coverage in 2005, and the number will
continue to grow if this country does not enact new policies to defuse this crisis (Families USA
2). Families USA, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that advocates for public health
contracted with Dr. Kenneth Thorpe, Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy
and Management at Emory University, to analyze data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other
national databases to study the fiscal impact on this country of so many uninsured people. This
study, released in June 2005, found that the overwhelming majority of uninsured people are
workers in low-wage jobs (Families 10). With the advent of national welfare reform in 1996,
millions of people entered the low-wage workforce and lost their Medicaid eligibility. According
to Judith Feder, Dean of Policy Studies at Georgetown University, “Since most people leaving
welfare find themselves in low-paying jobs without coverage, loss of public coverage leaves them
without health coverage altogether” (Feder 29). Moreover, many corporations, pressured by
global competition to hold down labor costs, are increasingly asking their employees to share a
greater portion of the escalating cost of health insurance premiums, if employers offer benefits at
all. In fact, a study by the Commonwealth Fund reports that more than one-quarter of workers in
companies with over 500 employees do not receive employer-based coverage, and that one in
every three full-time workers with incomes below $35,000 is uninsured (Commonwealth 1).
Low-wage workers are therefore caught in an untenable situation. They do not qualify for
Medicaid and cannot afford to buy health insurance or even contribute to an employer-based
plan. Consequently, these low-wage workers show up at their local emergency rooms sicker,
with more advanced diseases, and suffer higher mortality rates because they have no health care
benefits, according to the 2006 Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured (Kaiser 6).

As Barbara Ehrenreich claims in Nickel and Dimed, “if you have no money for health
insurance…you go without routine care or prescription drugs and end up paying the price”
(Ehrenreich 27). However, the nation as a whole is “paying the price” as we spend billions of
dollars every year on uncompensated care for the uninsured both through taxpayer funded
government programs and higher premium costs for health plans. According to Jack Hadley, the
Principal Research Associate at the Urban Institute and primary author of the 2002 book Sicker
and Poorer: The Consequences of Being Uninsured, we spent 35 billion dollars on
uncompensated care for the uninsured (Hadley 8). This is an inefficient use of health care
resources, and leaves the nation’s uninsured workers playing Russian roulette with their health
(Hadley 2). If they are unlucky, they pay with their lives; but as a nation, we...

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