The debate over health care reform has often centered on the question of ever-rising costs. But what is often overlooked is the fact that we all, as taxpayers and policyholders, shoulder the cost of the uninsured in this country.
How? By cost shifting, having the insured paying for the uninsured. It is that simple, really. And as it turns out, very expensive - for all taxpayers and those paying for health insurance.
Practically every hospital, and most physicians in this country, must treat patients without insurance. Such patients rarely pay their bills, and those providers must find a way to recuperate those costs. To cover the spread, these providers raise their fees. In particular they increase fees to health insurers.
And what do health insurance companies do when hospitals and physicians charge more to work with them in their network? They raise their rates.
As it turns out, Coloradans who are fortunate enough to have health insurance pay more for their premiums as a result of the uninsured. Several studies show that nearly $1,100 of a working family's premium is directly tied to the costs of treating the uninsured.
What this all adds up to is, essentially, a hidden tax that we - as policyholders and taxpayers - have to pay.
But despite all this, there are folks out there who still make the argument that the uninsured are simply someone else's problem. Folks like U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck.
In fact, Mr. Buck said, "You say they don't have health insurance, that doesn't mean they don't have healthcare. We have emergency rooms, we have charitable opportunities for folks."
Really? Mr. Buck's solution is the most expensive solution, and will result in a lower quality of care. Mr. Buck wants to send the uninsured to emergency rooms, which provide care that is much more expensive than in primary care clinics and offices.
Of course hospitals have emergency rooms, and need them, for true emergency patients. But the uninsured use emergency rooms for minor and chronic problems, such as a sore throat or high blood pressure. And it is very costly.
Just ask the folks over at Denver Health, where they spend over $350 million a year on uncompensated care alone because of the uninsured.
And who ultimately has to cover that cost? You and me: The taxpayer, and all workers who have employer paid health insurance.
As a family physician, I know we need to take a smarter, more informed approach to the uninsured than brushing them off as "someone else's problem."
In Grand Junction, where I practice, we have seen that having enough primary care physicians and offices saves trips to the emergency room - and saves money.
Lots of money. We found that emergency room visits were 6 times more expensive than for the same problems treated in primary care settings.
Also at primary care offices other problems are often treated in addition to the urgent problem, so chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes can be treated in the same visit.
Better health at lower costs, and better health care outcomes, allows people to live better and at much lower costs that relying upon emergency rooms.
But without insurance, a lot of folks put off preventative primary care, waiting instead until their illness becomes so bad they have no other option but to seek out care at the emergency room.
Mr. Buck apparently just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand health care, nor does he fully comprehend what his outlandish comments and extreme plans actually mean for patients, doctors and the American people.
If Mr. Buck has his way, his wrongheaded proposals will result in much higher costs and much lower quality of health care in Colorado. We can do better than that. And with Michael Bennet fighting to improve our health care system in Washington, we will.
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