Opinion | Scott Estill: Health care for all, if you can afford it

Scott M. Estill

I recently had a medical procedure that set me back over $1,800. That was my copay, and the insurance paid the rest. This is after my family has paid more in 2022 premiums than the gross domestic product of the average person in 111 countries, a sad fact encountered during my research for this article! I am lucky that I can afford the bill. Many can’t.

We here in Summit County are blessed with many options when it comes to obtaining quality medical care. We have the year-old Dillon Health Center, and Vail Health recently announced that it would be increasing spending on employee compensation and benefits so that it could attract and retain its workforce. I hope it’s not too late to recognize that paying fair wages and expanding benefits, including housing and child care assistance, will greatly assist the overall quality of health care for those who need it.

It is amazing to me, however, that a country as financially wealthy as the United States can be so poor when it comes to health care. 

A male child born in Mississippi can expect to live 71.2 years, the lowest in the United States. Simply being born in Colorado will add five years to the Mississippi child’s life. The usual culprits of poverty, lack of health insurance (and thus the inability to access and pay for health care) and crime/drugs all come into play. Yet, males born in countries as disparate as Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iran, Lebanon, Mexico and Nicaragua all can expect to live longer than the Mississippi child. None of these countries could be considered economic powerhouses under any definition of the term. It’s apparent at this point that we as a nation simply don’t care.

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has assisted over 35 million Americans with some form of health insurance coverage. However, there is still an estimated 11% of the U.S. population that lacks health insurance, or more, than are covered under “Obamacare.” And this doesn’t even consider the millions of Americans who are underinsured and could not afford the copay on a medical procedure, doctor visit or necessary medications. The primary reason for the lack of adequate or any coverage is cost. It’s not surprising then when a Harvard study concluded that 62% of all bankruptcies filed in the U.S are because of medical debt. Of these people bankrupted by sickness, a full 78% had some form of health insurance. As anyone who has recently been to a medical facility in the U.S knows, insurance exclusions, deductibles and copays, coupled with astronomical provider costs, can easily exceed a year or more worth of income. This in a country in which 56% of its citizens could not cover a $1,000 medical bill with their current savings.

If you thought the price of groceries has risen a lot (it has), you would be in for a sticker shock of the 31.6% annual inflation rate for medicine. Thirty percent of American adults are currently reducing doses, reducing frequency or eliminating prescriptions altogether, all in the name of the costs associated with necessary medicine.

For some reason, we Americans do not consider health care to be a fundamental right. While there could have been a “Clintoncare” in the 1990s, it wasn’t until “Obamacare” that we had some form of national health insurance, however weak it may in fact be. Despite numerous attempts to repeal “Obamacare” (and replace it with “something terrific” according to our previous president), it still exists, battered and all. And to date, there has never been a vote on any Republican health care plans to replace it with something more palatable to those who object to “Obamacare.”

At some point we as a nation will conclude that this country is very sick. It starts at the top, where hopefully something will be learned from the COVID-19 bungles. It starts with the truth and a means to regain trust in scientific education. And it must also start with the ability to counter the disinformation from those on the far left and right fringes of our society. Whether an adult wishes to refrain from a vaccine is a personal decision that must be respected. Offering solutions such as drinking bleach or taking medicine intended to treat parasites in animals cannot be respected.

And what about our leaders in Washington? The Democratic Party needs to look for ways to reduce the costs of health insurance and what the insured must pay for medical procedures and medications. It is undeniable that medical costs alone contribute mightily to the low life expectancies and the number of financial insolvencies from which many families never recover. If the Republican Party doesn’t like the direction the Democrats are heading, perhaps it’s time to finally unveil their vision for making our country healthier in the future. The time to complain about what the “other side” is doing is over. 

Here’s to a healthy 2023! It better be — we can’t afford to get sick.

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