Lack of health insurance coverage for over 41 million Americans is one of the nation’s most pressing problems. While most elderly Americans have coverage through Medicare and nearly two-thirds of non-elderly Americans receive health coverage through employer-sponsored plans, many workers and their families remain uninsured because their employer does not offer coverage or they cannot afford the cost of coverage. Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) or HAWK-I here in Iowa help fill in the gaps for low-income children and some of their parents, but the reach of these programs is limited. As a result, millions of Americans without health insurance face adverse health consequences because of delayed or foregone health care and extending coverage to the uninsured has become a national priority. -(Information taken from kff.org)
The number of people that are forced to go without health insurance is nothing less than a crisis in this country today. We have fallen into a vicious cycle over the last few decades in which health insurance premiums have become too expensive for even a middle class family to afford. This in turn results in the inability of the uninsured to cover medical costs which often times results in the financial ruins of the family, and in turn results in the continuing loss of income by the medical community, which in turn drives the cost of medical expenses higher, finally cycling back to the insurance company which then must drive the premiums of health insurance higher to help cover the rising cost of health care.
Many proposals have been tossed around by politicians on both sides of the isle ranging from socializing health care comparable to the Canadian system, to endorsing health savings accounts and cracking down on frivolous law suits against the medical community. Many of these proposals have good points, but along with whatever good points they bring they also bring major downfalls. For instance; a socialized national health care program would eliminate the need for health insurance all together and the cost would be taken on by taxes, which in theory doesn’t seem like a bad idea. However, the downfalls to this system include a deficit in new doctors willing to get into the field due to the inevitable decline in income while the demand would grow due to no personal responsibility. In short if people didn’t have to worry about deductibles or copays that would normally keep the person from seeking medical treatment for minor things, they would simply go to the doctor every time they had an ache or pain. So now we have waiting lines for people with major health problems since everyone is scheduling an appointment while at the same time we are loosing doctors due to lack of incentive.
The current battle cry by the republican Bush administration is to push HSA’s (Health Savings Accounts) which reduce premium by taking a less expensive high deductible health insurance plan with a tax deferred savings account that earns a small interest on the side that you contribute to along with your premiums each month. Any money withdrawn from the savings account for qualified medical expenses are taken “tax-free”, and unlike a flex spending account like many people are familiar with in employer based plans, you don’t lose the money you put into the account that you don’t use. Basically if you never used any of that money in the savings account you could withdrawal or roll it over into another vehicle once you turn 62 1/2 penalty free to be used for retirement. This is a viable option for some people, however for many the premiums for these plans are still too expensive, and the problem remains that if you need major treatment in the first few years of the policy you will not have a big enough amount in the savings account to help cover the gaps leaving that person responsible for a large portion of the cost out of pocket.
Now we come to what I believe is one of the biggest problems from a health insurance agent’s point of view, which is the inability for persons with pre-existing health conditions to obtain coverage. From the number of people that contact my office searching for health insurance coverage, I would have to say that about half of them have a health condition that will either result in an insurance company declining that persons application, or result in an amendment rider which basically excludes coverage for any claims related to that condition. An example of a condition that I run across constantly is hypertension or high blood pressure. This condition will sometimes result in a company declining an application all together if other factors are involved, but most generally result in an amendment exclusion rider. You may think that this isn’t that big of a deal, after all, blood pressure medicine is about the only thing they would have to pay for out of pocket, but what many people don’t realize is that this rider will exclude ANYTHING that could be considered part of this condition including heart attacks, strokes, and aneurisms which would all result in a huge out of pocket claim. Consider the fact that my father had a double by-pass surgery recently that ended up with a final bill of around $150,000. This whole amount would have had to come out of pocket had he had a hypertension rider on his health insurance policy, not to mention the added cost of 2 months off of work thrown into the mix. On a modest income of $40,000 per year this would have ruined him financially.
So what how do we fix this problem? Obviously the proposals thus far have been flawed from the beginning, and even if one of these plans gained support from the American people chances are it would never be passed into law simply due to political infighting. One side wants to keep health care privatized while the other wants to socialize it, which as we discussed before both have upsides and downsides. It seems that we are doomed on this issue and there is no real ideas or light at the of the tunnel right? Maybe not, let me tell you about a client I had in my office a couple of years ago.
A young woman came in wanting to compare health insurance plans to see if there were any options for her and her family. She had several children and had been on Title 19 Medicaid and had been going to college paid by the state. She had recently graduated from college and had gotten a job with the local school system, however for whatever reason she was not eligible for health insurance benefits. Obviously she still couldn’t afford 5 or 6 hundred dollars per month for a plan so she went back to the aid office and explained her situation. They ended up working with us to find an acceptable private health insurance plan and reimbursed her for a percentage of the cost which I didn’t even know was possible!
This got me thinking, consider how many more people would be able to obtain coverage if they could be reimbursed by the government a percentage of the premium according to their income. For example; take a young married couple in their 20’s with one child, let’s say that their family income is $25,000 and that the average premium for a $500 deductible health insurance plan for them is $450. Just as an example let’s say that the government determined that a three person family with an annual income of $25,000 is reimbursed 50% of their premium taking the actual cost to the family to $225 per month. This is now an affordable enough premium for the family to consider.
With this merging of private insurance with government assistance we get the best of both worlds. Of course the next question goes to cost, how much more would this cost the American tax payer and how much would this raise taxes? I don’t think that it would cost the tax payers much more an here’s why I think that: First off we would bring down significantly the amount of uninsured people that are unable to pay for the medical care they get in turn driving down the total cost of health care. Secondly the number of people that are forced into bankruptcy and driven to Medicaid Title 19 assistance due to medical bills stemming from catastrophic medical conditions that don’t have health insurance coverage would be significantly reduced. This is important to keep in mind considering that once someone is on Medicaid they are receiving health care basically 100% covered by the government so there is no more incentive to not seek treatment for minor or non-existing conditions. On the flip side many conditions that would have not been caught before they became severe because a person didn’t seek treatment due to not having insurance coverage would now be caught before they turned into a catastrophic claim. Finally, if the government allocated a certain amount of money to help cover claims by people that have pre-existing conditions the private insurance companies could do away with exclusions and declines due to already existing health problems, this is already done is some states such as the HIPIOWA Iowa Comprehensive Plans which insures Iowa residents that can not obtain coverage elsewhere.
You may be sitting there thinking that this is all just wishful thinking and that these ideas could never be implemented, but all of these ideas are already being implemented. The problem is that only some states do some programs and not even most health insurance agents know that some low income families can get reimbursed for health insurance premiums. If these programs were all standardized and put into effect on a national well publicized level I believe it would put one hell of a dent in the uninsured population in this country. Now I don’t pretend to know what the reimbursement levels should be for what income levels but I do know that anything is better than nothing,