“I need to admit you to the hospital for pneumonia,” I told my patient. He had reluctantly driven himself to the emergency room as his symptoms worsened. In between gasps, he asked, “How much will it cost?”
Many patients have asked me that question in moments where their health should have been the number one concern. But it is an important question. Sixty-two percent of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are linked to medical bills or illness. Three quarters of those bankrupted had health insurance when they got sick. One hospital bill could lead to the unraveling of your life.
Lyndon Johnson began to address this problem exactly 50 years ago when he signed Medicare into law in July 1965. President Johnson said, “There are those fearing the terrible darkness of despairing poverty – despite their long years of labor and expectation – who will now look up to see the light of hope and realization.”
The Affordable Care Act increased the number of Americans with insurance, but many still remain uninsured and far more are under-insured. Insurance companies have significantly contributed to the skyrocketing costs of U.S. health care as health outcomes have worsened.
A better solution would be to improve and expand Medicare to cover everyone . Legislation like “The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” H.R. 676, could make our health care system less costly and more fair. I look forward to the day when my patients and I can focus on health instead of health insurance.
Kathryn Dean, MD