Healthcare or Bust

There has been a lot of health care coverage over the past few months. It seems as if the voices of pundits on both sides, of screaming protestors and showboating politicians, are constantly pouring out of every speaker. I turn on my radio and they are talking about health care. I turn on my TV and the conversation is about health care. I open my email and all of those news alerts I signed up for are filled with stories about – yes, you guessed it, health care.

If I had to be completely honest with you, I am still not sure what all this airtime has accomplished. I am still confused about the bill (or is it bills?) winding their way through Congress. I am still not exactly sure what a public plan is, or what a co-op is either for that matter. I don’t know whether the big problem with hyperinflation in health care costs is frivolous lawsuits, (as Republicans seem to suggest) or a lack of preventative care and competition. While I suspect the real cause of high costs in this country is a combination of all of those factors, that suspicion doesn’t really help me when I am trying to evaluate the pros and cons (and there are always cons) of the policies that President Obama, Congress and various interest groups have suggested.

The truth is, despite the reluctance on both sides to admit this; there are a lot of uncertainties in this debate. Even if after discounting malicious rumors about death panels and overly optimistic projections of a perfect system, there are simply a lot of convincing and yet conflicting arguments floating around out there.

So, what’s a person to do? It would be easy to say, “That’s it, I am going to block my ears and ignore all the mumbo jumbo out there until this debate dies a slow and painful death. I could just ignore it and let everything go back to normal.”

The problem with this strategy is that we simply cannot afford to let things go back to normal. A lot of people are scared that the cost of reform, especially reform done badly, will send this country into bankruptcy. And yet, none of those admittedly astronomical numbers can compare to what the price of inaction will be. This price will be, and already is, both monetary and human.

Americans, American businesses and the American government are paying more for health care than any other country on earth. This year we spent $2.5 trillion on health care. By 2018, that number is expected to double to $4.4 trillion. At the same time, we are far from being the healthiest country on earth. The current situation comes at an enormous cost for all of us.

For those who currently receive health insurance through their employers, the price of health care is extracted from our paychecks. Employers are passing on the higher price of health insurance by taking it out of pay raises that would otherwise be passed onto the employee. According to the Council of Economic Advisors, the average American loses $5,000 in possible wages through these unseen costs.

For employers, especially small businesses, the cost of insurance can be crippling. Even those who want to provide the best for their employees cannot afford premiums that often increase by 30, even 50 percent a year. They lack the bargaining power of big corporations and face the unsavory choice of having to drop their employees’ coverage in order to survive.

That brings me to the 46 million American living without insurance. For the uninsured, the smallest cough can be a source of worry. Any serious illness or injury can ruin a family’s financial future. Every year, 62 percent of personal bankruptcies filed in this country are related to medical expenses. We are the only industrialized country to let this happen to our citizens.

This is why I can’t ignore the health care issue, no matter how confusing and frustrating it seems to be. I have a responsibility to keep on slogging through the facts, and to keep trying to understand this issue. We all do, because the price of letting health reform die again is something none of us can afford to pay.

To learn more about America’s healthcare crisis and the arguments around the debate, check out the following Web resources:

The Obama administration’s official healthcare Web site:
http://www.healthreform.gov/

Non-partisan monitoring organization:
http://www.factcheck.org/

National Public Radio;
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1027

Public Broadcasting Service:
http://video.pbs.org/feature/87/

Non-partisan think tank:
http://www.brookings.edu/topics/health-care.aspx

Conservative think-tank:
http://www.heritage.org/research/healthcare/healthcarereform/

Progrssive think-tank:
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/domestic/healthcare/

Mengfei Chen is a fourth-year international studies major. She can be reached at mengfeic@uci.edu.