Last week was really tough for me. A new report came out showing 2.7 million Americans lost their health care insurance last year. Some lost it because they lost their jobs and could not afford COBRA or simply did not have a COBRA option. Others lost their insurance because they could no longer afford the premiums. Finally, some lost their insurance because their health insurer, for one reason or another, dropped them. Ironically, the health insurance industry reported record profits of over $55 billion. Strangely, the news coverage was light and there were certainly no major protests by a concerned public. I have not heard of any rallies being planned in Washington.
Truth be told, I have no problem with insurance companies making money. While the numbers may seem very high, the insurance industry provides a valuable service to millions of Americans. Further, the margins are relatively small as compared with other industries. This is America and we have a market-based economy. We, the people, have set the rules for the health insurance industry to follow, and they following them exactly as they should. Therein lies the problem.
How can America, the largest economy in the world, even with all our debt and high levels of unemployment, tolerate 30, 40, or 50 million people without access to health care services and subsequently health care insurance? The answer is actually quite simple -- because we do. I have written extensively on how complicated the health care system is in our country. I believe that we have the ability to fix it by retaining the best components of what exists in the health care system today and by changing and (or) eliminating what does not work in the system we are currently struggling with today. What we have now has evolved into its current state as the result of a combination of private sector innovation and governmental oversight and control. It is precisely this combination that will be needed to make the system work for everyone. But change does not come easy.
As we have seen in Washington, there is partisan gridlock on health care reform. The Democrats in the House and Senate have put forward two plans that, for all their differences, are fundamentally similar. The Republicans have offered very little in return other than rejecting much of the Democrats plan. It would be unfair to suggest the Republicans have offered nothing, but the truth is they have offered very little to tackle the health care access problems we have in this country. The only way to reform health care is to get Americans to demand change. So where is everyone? Sure some call my radio show every week (Health care Connect -- Sirius 114/XM 119), where I take calls from dozens of listeners in trouble.
Just this past week, I was talking with my co-hosts, Allison Vogel and Matt Penziner about how frustrated I have become with the lack of progress reform. It has become increasingly difficult to get my message out as the mainstream media focuses more on the politics in Washington and less on the real story, which is how people are suffering. I simply asked, is it worth the fight anymore? Is anyone listening to us? Should I keep on fighting? I am very fortunate. I have a great job working for one of the largest and best medical centers in the world (NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City). I have great health insurance and access to the best doctors anywhere.
I think what I find most strange and frustrating is the lack of public outcry over what is happening. There have been no rallies in Washington. Think about it, the news media covered the Tea Party Rally a few months back with their small protest in Washington, with constant updates and analysis. Can you imagine what would happen if a mere five percent of the uninsured marched on Washington to demand a change? If you use the low number of 30 million uninsured, five percent would be 1.5 million people; an extraordinary number. It would turn Washington upside down and scare our elected leaders in Congress into action. It might even force them to work together and actually find a way to reform the health care system.
It is up to us, we the people to force the change. I have yet to find anyone who thinks the current system works. Sure, there are those who are lucky, like me, who have insurance and access and do not want that to change. Yet when you ask them about those who do not have access, they recognize how devastating it can be for those who go without.
Let me be super clear on this point, we all know it is broken and we need to make sure Congress fixes it now. I have said numerous times, health care should not be a political issue. One does not have to like all elements of the reform being considered. Given the complexity and diversity of our country, I am certain it is impossible to make everyone happy. I also know that we can do better. We can preserve what works and fix what is broken. It will take time and we will make mistakes. In fact, we will make many mistakes. And because this is America, we will fix them as they come along.
To do nothing is a national disgrace and for those who think government should stay out of health care, if we do not fix this now, costs will continue to rise, more people will go without health care, and we will spend even more than 17 percent of GDP we do now.
It is up to us. If you are reading this blog, call Congress. Tell them we have to do something. We cannot rely on others to fix this for us. We all play a role. Simply sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to happen is not going to work. Even scarier, you may end up one of the unlucky people who had insurance last year or even has insurance today, and loses it overnight. We are all at risk (unless of course, you work for the Senate and the House).