Guest column: It’s time for universal health care |

Guest column: It’s time for universal health care

NATHAN WOODLIFF-STANLEYHigh Country Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

It’s time. Past time, in fact. For too many years now, Americans have been paying more for health care and getting less in return than almost every other industrialized nation in the world. Who doesn’t know that our health care system is badly broken? It is a system that leaves at least 45 million Americans completely uninsured, including about 788,000 of us in Colorado, almost one of five residents. In many cases, the uninsured get little if any preventative care and must use emergency rooms as their first or only source of health care. The uninsured, who can least afford it, are often charged many times the cost for a procedure as the insured are charged for the same procedures. Personal bankruptcies are caused by medical costs more often than by anything else. Costs that cannot be paid just get passed on to others. This system is both inefficient and cruel, wasting both money and people’s lives (at least 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year). Even for those who have health insurance, a serious illness can mean endless anxiety and battles with insurance companies over what will be covered and what will not. Even the insured can face the threat of bankruptcy. Almost 20 percent of our health care costs are eaten up by the paperwork and bureaucracy of dealing with insurance, and the delays and denied procedures can be a nightmare. The people who work in insurance companies are not evil – the problem is that the incentives for insurance companies are structured to place profits above people and to deny every claim possible. Health care distorts the labor market, as people make job decisions based on health insurance, especially if they have “pre-existing conditions.” It distorts markets for cars and other goods where U.S. manufacturers must build in health insurance costs that their competitors do not have. And heaven help you if you are self-employed. We pay more for prescription drugs than any other people in the world, and even seniors with prescription drug benefits have to find their way through the “doughnut hole.” Overall, we pay more for health insurance or health care than anyone else, and what do we have to show for it? Out of 30 industrial nations, the U.S. ranks 22nd in life expectancy and 24th in infant mortality. We have higher rates of nearly every chronic disease than do the Canadians, for example, and poorer health care overall than all but two industrialized nations. If we know the system is broken, why can’t we fix it? The main reason is the vested interests of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies and others who make money off of our present system and buy off politicians with campaign support. They frighten us with words like “rationing” and “socialized medicine,” but in reality, we are rationing medical care in a very harsh way right now. And no one is proposing true socialism, under which the government would own the hospitals and employ the doctors. In reality, if we finally adopted single-payer universal health care in the United States, we would save about $350 billion per year, which could go toward more and better care, preventative medicine, and lower health care costs overall. No system will ever be perfect, but we could do so much better than we are doing now. More band-aids won’t do the job. It’s time to do now what we should have done long ago, and make universal health care a reality.The Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley is the part-time minister for the High Country Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which meets in Frisco and has offices in Dillon at (970) 262-0539. He is also the part-time Minister of Social Responsibility for Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden.

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