A Problem We Must Not Ignore

June 7, 2004

Howard Dean

By Gov. Howard Dean M.D.

There are over 43 million Americans who do not have health insurance and the problem is getting worse. Put another way, you could sell out every single game at Yankee Stadium for the next five seasons with only uninsured Americans in attendance.

In the richest, most advanced country in the world, we have to do better. It's simply wrong for sick children to go without seeing a doctor because their parents cannot afford it. It is wrong for a woman to find out she has late-stage breast cancer, because she couldn't afford a mammogram. It is wrong for seniors to have to choose between prescriptions they need and putting food on the table. Above all, it is wrong for America to be the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee in one way or another, that all Americans can afford adequate healthcare.

This is not just a social problem but an economic problem as well. According to the Institute of Medicine, The United States spends $35 billion every year to treat people with no insurance, while the economy loses between $65 billion and $130 billion in productivity.

Health care costs for workers have been gone up by 50 percent in the last three years. In fact, costs are rising at four times the rate of inflation. Middle class families are paying more than they can bear.

For the last six years, nothing has been done to address this problem. In fact, the problem has gone from bad to worse with nearly four million more Americans having lost health insurance in this time period. In addition, Families USA reports that the President's latest budget would reduce Medicaid funding "by nearly $1 billion in 2005 and by nearly $16 billion" over the next ten years, even as states have been forced to dramatically reduce their low-income health insurance programs. Those million and a half Americans get health care anyway. They simply go to emergency rooms, rack up bills they cannot pay and then the hospitals are forced to shift the cost to insurance companies which raise premiums for the people that are actually insured.

We also have the spectacle of the $540 billion Medicare prescription bill paid for by American taxpayers which sends more of our dollars to HMOs, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies than to our seniors. We have 500,000 children and one million adults who have been kicked off Medicaid as the disastrous increase in the federal deficits are passed along in the form of service cuts and higher taxes to state and local governments.

We can do better than this. America can no longer afford to pretend this problem does not exist. As a doctor and former governor, I know there are no easy answers; however, the current course we are on is setting the health care system up for complete collapse. After all, the British, French, Germans, Canadians, Spanish, Greeks, Japanese, Irish, Italians, Israelis, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and even the Costa Ricans have health insurance for all their people. So should we.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates.
Email Howard Dean at howarddean@democracyforamerica.com
Copyright 2004 Howard Dean, All Rights Reserved.
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