President Obama says he intends to get the majority of the population some sort of health insurance. And not a moment too soon because, as Frontline reports in Sick Around America
, the current $2.2 trillion system is a nightmare.
You already knew that, of course. If you or someone you know hasn't felt it, you've read about it or maybe seen Michael Moore's documentary Sicko
Frontline offers a few new twists -- like the president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, who had heart surgery and therefore is ineligible to buy private health insurance. "So it's important that I keep my job," he says. And the head of the health insurance industry lobbying group, who can't buy individual health insurance because she suffers from severe asthma.
And then there are the stories that have become all too commonplace. The real estate agent from California, whose coverage Blue Cross rescinded immediately after she racked up $160,000 in medical bills. And the Houston man who lost his health insurance after being laid off and subsequently had a heart attack. Some $200,000 in medical bills later, he sold everything he owned and moved in with his mother in Indiana. And the Tennessee woman who was told -- incorrectly -- that she no longer qualified for her state's health insurance. She died from lupus.
And so on.
Horror stories like these come with sobering statistics. We're told that around 20,000 people die in the United States each year because they can't get the health care they need. A Harvard Law School study estimates about 700,000 people go bankrupt each year, partly because of medical bills. In addition to the 46 million or so uninsured Americans are 25 million more who are underinsured.
In other countries, Frontline reports, everyone must buy insurance, which spreads the risk and lowers the cost. The poor are subsidized. They're trying a system like this in Massachusetts, where everyone is required to purchase health insurance and an estimated 97.4 percent of the population has done so. But as you'll see in this hour, insurance is expensive and, for some, unaffordable.
So what's the answer? Tom Delbanco, a Harvard professor of medicine and primary care, ends this well-reported (if not groundbreaking) hour by suggesting a common-sense way to start. "We should make a moral decision," he says, "that all our citizenry has health care. And then after that, we'll have to get downright dirty, roll up our sleeves, figure out how to do it. But say that it's a given that we will do it. Then we may be able to come up with a system that's better than what we have now and is certainly much more equitable."
Yes we can? We'll see.