Straight, No Chaser: A Dream of Equal Access to Health Care

mlk on health

On this national day of celebration, I couldn’t help but reflect back on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most famous comments on health care in America.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.”

Why would he say such a thing? Injustice in health care has taken many forms and resulted in predictably poor outcomes for those affected. I will be frequently reviewing these considerations and addressing health care disparities in this blog. Today, I will address the inequity in insurance coverage that formed the premise for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2009-2010, 41% of low-income adults were uninsured, and 45% of poor adults were uninsured. Contrast this with the fact that only 6% of those who make four or more times the poverty rate were uninsured. This pretty clearly makes the case that health care is a desirable asset for Americans who can afford it, and a choice that too often can’t be afforded for others. Now consider that 14% percent of white Americans were uninsured, while 22% of African-Americans were uninsured, and 32% of Hispanic Americans were uninsured. Whether you believe this is just a correlation, coincidence or reflection of something more damning, it is a situation that screams to be addressed and improved.

Even more recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a survey showing that more than 45 million U.S. residents didn’t have health insurance during the first nine months of 2012, immediately prior to implementation of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Still even more people, 57.5 million, were uninsured for at least part of the 12 months before being polled (Be reminded that the total U.S. population is just over 311 million.).

Please take a moment and ponder the enormity of the numbers just presented. It begs the question “How can such be allowed to exist?” Dr. King’s comment begged the same question. The answer of course lies in the fact that the American health care system isn’t built on producing equality of access or outcomes. You’ve heard me say before that the American health care system remains the only system among all the major industrialized nations on earth that doesn’t ensure access for all its citizens. The American health care system is a business enterprise that has captured over $2 trillion annually, representing over 1/6 (17%) of the gross domestic product, and all the while leaving more than 45 million Americans uninsured. We are number one in money spent on health care by a large margin; in fact, the U.S. spends more on people aged over 65 than any other other country spends on its entire population. The business of medicine in America is business first. It is largely expected that good health care outcomes will result from good business in the same way that good cars, computers, smartphones, etc. are produced (theoretically). It’s important to note that according to the World Health Organization (the monitor of such things), the U.S. health care system was ranked #38 in the last WHO ranking based on standard health outcomes produced.

President Barack Obama’s health care reform law aims to extend health insurance coverage to a large portion of the uninsured. According to the Congressional Budget Office, health care reform will reduce the number of uninsured people by 27 million between 2014 and 2023. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) targets its assistance to the poor and near-poor who are least likely to have health care coverage. The ACA will provide Medicaid coverage to those with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level ($15,282 for a single person this year) — unless their home state opts out of the Medicaid expansion. People who earn between the poverty level and four times that amount will be eligible for tax credits for private health insurance.

Access to health care is the beginning of the process bywhich health care disparities can be erased. As long as failure to have equal access exists to the extent that it does, the types of disparities in life expectancy, disease rates and disease survival will remain predictably dismal for certain populations. As long as total our population is unhealthy in general and pockets of our population are more disproportionately unhealthy, we will remain less productive and cohesive than we could be, and that will perpetrate a host of additional problems within our society. MLKMOW

Happy MLK Day. Remember the Dream, but also remember how that plays out in our lives.

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