Here's two headlines that you won't see this week: "Most Americans have health insurance," and "Most Americans get the medical care they need." But why let the facts get in the way of the push for a national health insurance program-a push driven more by the political ideology of all-payer advocates rather than by their actual experiences with the healthcare system.
That's why President Bush's plan to reduce the number of uninsured in the country is a good start. It may not solve the entire problem, but it goes about it in the right way. The plan offers solutions to those without coverage while not messing things up for people who have coverage through private or public health insurance programs.
Let's have a little fun with math, shall we, and turn the numbers on their head: According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, a whopping 85.4% of the U.S. population, or 240.9 million people, had health insurance in 2001.
And let's throw in a few other facts that go unmentioned by those pushing for a national health insurance program because of the problem of the uninsured:
* Each year, hospitals spend about 6% of their money on uncompensated care, which is the combination of bad debt and charity care. Only about one-third of that, or about 2%, is true charity care. Those figures haven't changed much over the past decade.
* A recent study said the percentage of physicians providing charity care dropped to 72% in 1999 from 76% in 1997.
* Federal law guarantees a basic medical screening to anyone, regardless of insurance status, who visits the emergency room of a not-for-profit hospital.
Not everyone is uninsured, not every hospital is being crushed by its uncompensated-care expenses, not every physician is being driven out of practice because droves of poor patients are pushing down the walls of his or her office, not every patient is being denied emergency medical care. And not every city in America is identical to El Paso, Texas, which has become the poster child for the access crisis.
There is an access problem in the U.S., but it's not the coast-to-coast, border-to-border epidemic that socialized-medicine advocates want everyone to believe. As we have said previously on this page, the problem of the uninsured deserves serious attention. The Bush plan is a step in the right direction in that it targets areas for improvement and rejects a blunderbuss single-payer approach. The plan would increase the number of community health centers offering care to the poor. It would create financial incentives for healthcare practitioners to serve in areas with healthcare manpower shortages and for individuals and families to buy health insurance. And it would help states create high-risk insurance pools for previously uninsurable people.
We should not wreck the best healthcare system in the world because less than 15% of the population doesn't have health insurance. Let's figure out ways to get those people covered so everyone can enjoy the benefits that the current healthcare delivery system-a system that, although highly regulated, is founded on competition-can provide. Every reader of this magazine knows that we can be as tough on the healthcare industry and its leaders as anyone, holding both to demanding standards of excellence. But let's not be so stupid as to extinguish the one sector of the economy that's booming and improves access to care for everyone, even the poor and uninsured, through job creation, new construction and renovation, technological advances and expanded services.
What do you think?
Write us with your comments. Via e-mail, it's [email protected]; by fax, 312-280-3183.