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Health Crisis In America

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The Health Insurance Crisis in America

Health insurance comes as second nature to many of us. We grab that blue and white card and put it in our wallet behind old Irving fill-station receipts and forget about it until we are sick or injured. When this happens, there it is, cushioning our fall like the extra padding it provided to cushion our wallets. This is not the case with everyone, however. Many Americans have no cushion to fall back on, no blue and white card to show the emergency room when they have an unexpected health concern. No HMO with a convenient co-pay amount when their son or daughter develops an ear infection. Medicine and other health services are expensive without these important conveniences that many people lack. These people have been "falling through the cracks" in U.S. health care for years, leaving many citizens wondering: why would our country do this to us?

Our great and powerful nation, the United States, a country that much of the world views as the most highly developed nation in the world, is the only industrialized country that does not provide its citizens with universal health care, according to a report by the National Rural Health Association (NRHA 1). Being that we are a capitalist economy, perhaps the government feels it is the duty of the people to make sure they are taken care of. This makes sense, doesn't it? We are all smart individuals; we can make decisions and take action for ourselves. But what can the individuals do when the cost of insurance and health care is too high for them to handle?

In the United States, the answer is nothing. A 2002 census published by the Public Information office showed that there are 41.2 million Americans who do not have health insurance (Bergman). That amounts to a startling 14.6 percent of the population, up from 14.2 percent in 2001 (Bergman). This may seem like a small percentage compared to the 240.9 million of insured people living in America right now, but it's a huge percentage compared to other developed countries where 100 percent of the population is automatically covered by the health care system (Bergman).

So why don't these people get insurance? Well, as is so often quoted, "money makes the world go round." When it comes to health insurance however, it is not the world, but only America that seems to have a problem with providing health care for a reasonable price to its citizens. 55 percent of uninsured people answered that the reason they are without the safety of insurance is the reason everyone expects--they cannot afford it (NRHA 1).

Who are these people without health insurance? "Everyone I know is insured". Of the twelve people randomly quick-polled in a Hartwick College dormitory, only two answered that they knew someone who was uninsured. Granted, they are "rich" college students. Many of them have never been exposed to people who wouldn't have the money to pay for insurance, right? Wrong. The National Rural Health Association reports that "nearly eight in ten uninsured Americans have family incomes above the poverty level" (NRHA 2). It is not just the poverty-stricken population that can't afford insurance. The cost of U.S. health care and insurance is out of reach even for those who do not live in what we technically classify as "poverty". By the 2003 Federal Poverty Guidelines, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, poverty is classified as a collective income of less than $18,400 for a family of four (USDHHS 2). According to the National Coalition on Health Care, the average cost of insurance for a family in the United States is currently approximately $9,500 per year ("Cost"). For a family legally classified as living in poverty, that is more than half of their yearly income. Of course they can't afford it. And many others cannot pay for insurance, either. For families of middle income, health insurance costs use up approximately 15-20 percent of their yearly earnings ("Cost"). Many people have priorities above health insurance, such as paying their rent or their taxes or sending their children to college.

The income of uninsured people is very closely related to who these people are. In the U.S., 12 percent of "white" Americans are without insurance, 21.5 percent of African Americans and 34 percent of Hispanic Americans are without health coverage (NRHA 2). The trend of "the less money you make, the less likely you are to have insurance" is consistent in these statistics. According to a national survey of America's families, it is known that, on average, African Americans make less money than white Americans and Hispanic Americans make less money than both groups (Staveteig and Wigton). These people are employed somewhere, however, and they are making money, even if it is barely enough (or not even enough) to keep them above the poverty line. With jobs come benefits, and a common benefit that many people expect and desperately need is health insurance.

The issue of employer-provided health services arises in the argument over national health care. Don't most large companies have some sort of health insurance program for their employees? Of course they do. Many members of minority groups (those that have huge numbers of uninsured) are employed in large companies; in fact "eight in 10 uninsured Americans are workers or dependents of workers" (NRHA 2). Health insurance can usually be obtained through the workplace, and that is where many Americans look to find security. However, security is not always there.

A great American institution, Wal-Mart, is a large employer of ethnic minorities. While the Wal-Mart Corporation wields a giant yellow happy face as their mascot and runs commercials starring satisfied, Wal-Mart-loving-and-shopping employees, the truth is much less rosy. Wal-Mart does not allow their employees to work hours that the rest of the country defines as "full-time". Full-time at Wal-Mart is 28 hours a week ("Wal-Mart"). Wal-Mart workers that work 28 hours a week or less (which, by general definition, is practically all of them) have to work there for at least two years before they are eligible for health insurance ("Wal-Mart"). Even then, many of them cannot afford the insurance offered to them because Wal-Mart does not allow them to work the hours necessary to make the money needed to pay for this coverage. This breakdown of insurance makes it available to about 38 percent of their employees, meaning six of every ten workers are uninsured ("Wal-Mart"). Now go ahead and slap that happy face back up there and try to tell the world what a great place Wal-Mart is.

The Wal-Mart scenario is just one of many examples of situations where health



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