Health Care: RX for the System

Claudia Kalmer and her husband, Doug, have always been proudly self-reliant. They have built their lives and livelihood around a small farm and nursery and selling their stained glass art at craft fairs. A road accident this fall leaves them wondering whether any of that will be left a few months from now. Claudia was slightly injured; Doug nearly died. He is recovering, but the flood of medical bills threatens to engulf them.

“It’s terrifying,” says Claudia, voicing the fears of millions of American who lack adequate health coverage.

The Kalmers are typical of uninsured Americans. Like them, two-thirds of the uninsured live in working households. They lack coverage not by choice, but because the steady rise in medical costs over a half century has priced coverage beyond their means. In addition to the 46.6 million

Americans who have no coverage at all, at least as many people have insurance that is so limited or riddled with exclusions that it is nearly worthless. Working families who still have decent coverage worry it won’t last.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that, each year, 18,000 uninsured Americans die prematurely because they cannot access adequate, timely medical care. Emergency rooms treat trauma victims like the Kalmers, but people with life-threatening chronic illnesses simply go without care. Uninsured medical debt is now the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S.

As every other industrialized nation has shown, it doesn’t have to be that way. The plight of the Kalmers and millions of other families is not a natural phenomenon but the result of dysfunctional public policies that are as morally bankrupt as they are financially ruinous.

In terms of clinical expertise in treating certain illnesses, the U.S. has the best health care in the world. In overall World Health Organization measures such as infant mortality and life expectancy, however, the U.S. falls behind a score of other nations.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2007
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