“The greatest wealth is health.” It's a quote attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil, and a rather appropriate notion as our nation prepares for the fourth open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, which starts Nov. 1.
More than 2,000 years after Virgil spoke these words, they still do a pretty good job of describing why our nation's health and wealth go hand in hand. We are undoubtedly a stronger and more prosperous nation when our fellow citizens experience the wealth (in all of its meanings) of health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the uninsured rate in our country is at a record low of 8.6%. This number shows that millions of Americans are now benefiting from the advantages of being insured—from free preventive care to access to the most advanced lifesaving medical technology and health professionals.
It is clear that Virgil's words are more than an archaic cliche, as new modeling released last week by the research firm Avalere shows that quite literally health coverage can have a profound impact on your financial wealth but also importantly on your personal “wealth” best appreciated as health security.
The Federation of American Hospitals asked Avalere to analyze the real, pocketbook value of insurance. Researchers used a series of case studies based on familiar health events to determine the true financial benefits of coverage. The numbers were staggering. The study shows the extent that insured individuals spend a lot less out of pocket than the uninsured, with examples of covered costs for those with benefits ranging from $8,800 for treating a broken leg to just over $90,000 to fight breast cancer.
The study, titled Demonstrating the Value of Health Insurance, concludes, “These case studies demonstrate how uninsured individuals place themselves at easily avoidable financial risk by foregoing insurance and the readily available subsidies that make coverage more affordable.”
Importantly, Avalere researchers touch on something that is a little harder to quantify—the aforementioned health security. Simply defined, it is the peace of mind you have knowing that your insurance provides regular access to care and protection from unforeseen medical events.
These are compelling pro-coverage arguments—psychologically, physically and fiscally—but they still haven't been enough to convince some to get covered. For many, the immediate needs of today continue to outweigh the unanticipated events of tomorrow.
The good news is they no longer have to choose. Even if an employer doesn't offer coverage, the ACA provides options, subsidies and tax credits that make coverage more affordable and gives consumers choices.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said last month that millions of people could pay premiums of less than $75 per month, about the cost of an average cell phone plan.
So the question remains: Why aren't people jumping at this chance to buy health security? The truth is it's often hard to look past the monthly price of a premium and absorb the real, tangible protection that health insurance provides to a family. It will take time to integrate the real value of health insurance into the thinking and budgets of families across the nation.
We must continue to make the evidence available so that the choice is clearer.
That is not an easy task with the negative noise that continues to surround the ACA marketplace. Headlines about the stability and affordability of the marketplace often dominate the news cycle. There is no doubt that change is difficult, especially when it involves people's healthcare. I have been involved in shaping health policy for more than 30 years and I have seen the ups and downs. Each time we survive the uncertainty and in the end patients benefit. This will be no different.
Health insurance is ultimately a vehicle to help people achieve health and secure their wealth. Next month, millions of people will have the opportunity to make a potentially life-changing decision. I hope they will disregard the noise, focus on the facts and remember the words of Virgil—“The greatest wealth is health.”