Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December 4, 2007 - One in Five Lack Health Care

OK, the numbers are in. According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 20% of Americans lack access to health care. That’s one person in five.

These statistics refer to people who “couldn't afford one or more of these services: medical care, prescription medicines, mental health care, dental care, or eyeglasses.”

Imagine yourself sitting on a crowded train. There are five seats in your row: two on one side, three on the other. One of those people sharing the row of seats with you can’t afford to get sick: because, if that happens, he or she will have to do without necessary medical care.

It’s more than just a lack of medical insurance. Some people who have rudimentary health insurance still can’t access essential medical services when they need them, because of high deductibles or co-payments, lack of transportation, a shortage of doctors in their area, or lack of organs for needed transplants.

Lack of insurance, the report says, is still the leading obstacle by far.

Yes, there’s such a thing as charity care. Doctors and hospitals give away millions a year in care to those who can’t pay for it, and that’s a wonderful thing. Yet, it can be hard to access charity-care services. Only the most savvy and persistent manage to break through the bureaucratic obstacles. Many more just stay away, neglecting to seek help until it’s too late.

Other nations seem to have solved this problem. Their systems aren’t perfect. Some restrict access to the most costly treatments or procedures, or make people wait a long time for them. But they don’t say to one person in five, “you’re on your own.”

This is America. There is a greater concentration of wealth in our society than in any other in human history, but still we can’t solve this basic problem. It’s not that we lack the resources, as a nation. We lack the will, and we lack the courage.

Shame on us.

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