11/03/2006 06:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Health Care in America: We Can Do Better

Americans fortunate enough to receive raises this year can consider that money already spent. Millions of Americans know where the extra money will go--straight into rising health care costs.

A new study by the nonprofit group Families USA found that, on average, nationwide health care premiums have risen 6.4 percent faster than earnings. The findings are similar to a report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation in September. This report revealed health insurance costs rose 7.7 percent in the last year.

The Republicans in Congress will say that a rise of 7.7 percent is progress. They'll note that this is the slowest rise in costs since 1999. But this doesn't mitigate the fact that the rise in costs is more than twice the rate of inflation.

The Families USA study looked at the gap between health care costs and earnings state-by-state and the results are, without a doubt, sobering. Across the country wages remain stagnant, while health care costs are on the rise. As Americans pay more, they are getting less. Benefits are being reduced, while co-pays and deductibles are increasing.

The Republicans in Congress have been successful in their push for high deductible plans. In 2003, Congress allowed for tax-free health savings accounts with high deductibles. These plans do nothing for the middle class and working poor, who are affected the most by the appalling state of health care in this country.

The United States clearly stands alone in its failure to control soaring health care costs, as:

No other advanced nation uses employer-provided insurance as the primary vehicle for health care funding;
Per capita health care spending is more than twice as high in the U.S. as in any other advanced nation; and
Non-medical costs, primarily administrative and billing costs, now consume at least 25 percent of all health care spending in the country.

There's no doubt about it--Americans are footing the bill in a big way. For the millions of Americans with exorbitant health care bills stacking up, preventive care is not an affordable option. For millions more, health care itself is not even an option:

In 2005, the percentage of uninsured Americans rose by 1.3 million people to 46.6 million Americans, or 15.9 percent of the population;

Two-thirds of the uninsured are poor (making less than $19,907 for a family of four in 2004) or near poor, and 80 percent are from working families; and

There are more than in the United States. Of these, more than 60 percent are racial or ethnic minorities.

For Americans who do have health insurance, the rising costs are going somewhere, and that somewhere is straight into the pockets of the multi-billion dollar insurance and drug companies. In the past five years, U.S. health insurers have tripled their profits while pharmaceutical companies have seen record profits, placing them high on the list of Fortune 500 companies.

But there is some hope on the horizon as more and more states get fed up with Congress' lack of attention to the health care issue and start subsidizing their own health care programs. And labor unions, including the Teamsters, are continuing to work hard to raise the standard of living for all Americans. In fact, in 2005, 92 percent of union workers in the private sector had jobs providing access to health benefits, compared with only 68 percent of nonunion workers.

I urge you to do your part to help end the health care crisis that ails our country. Three in four voters say Congress has paid too little attention to domestic issues like health care. Cast your ballot next week in favor of the candidates who are willing to trade our inadequate and unaffordable health care system for one that actually works.