The only bright spot for the uninsured appears to come from Massachusetts, where the state legislature recently passed a law designed to bring affordable health insurance coverage for 95 percent of the state’s approximately 550,000 uninsured citizens within three years.
Many hospitals around the United States recently observed "Cover the Uninsured Week," an event designed to bring attention to the plight of Americans who don't have health insurance.
I wrote about the problem about year ago. Since then, the number of uninsured Americans has grown by almost 1 million. Nearly 46 million Americans -- equal to the combined population of 24 states -- do not have health care coverage, and 8 million of the uninsured are children, according Families USA, an advocacy group for health care.
Eight of 10 of the uninsured are members of working families, who either don't earn enough money to afford insurance (but make too much to qualify for public assistance) or they're workers whosecompanies won’t provide health coverage.
More moderate-income and middle-income people are joining the ranks of the uninsured, according to a report released by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health care policy foundation.
The report found that the percentage of moderate- and middle-income Americans who lacked health insurance for at least part of the year rose to 41 percent in 2005, compared to 28 percent in 2001. This problem isn't just about statistics.
What this means in the real world is that people without health insurance skip visits to doctors and dentists because of the skyrocketing cost of health care.
Women skip mammograms. Men skip prostate exams. People with chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma skip a dose of their medicine or go without it because it is too expensive, the Commonwealth Fund researchers found. Money is the deciding factor in who lives and who dies in the United States.
The only bright spot for the uninsured in the past year appears to come from Massachusetts, where the state legislature recently passed a law designed to bring affordable health insurance coverage for 95 percent of the state’s approximately 550,000 uninsured citizens within three years.
The plan, heralded by Gov. Mitt Romney, who is being touted as a GOP presidential contender in 2008, has people excited about the prospect of expanding it nationally. The jury is still out on whether it can work outside Massachusetts.
Massachusetts is not typical of the rest of the country. High taxes are a way of life in a state often nicknamed "Taxachusetts" and the state has a relatively small and healthy population.
There are other ways to deal with skyrocketing health care costs and the growing number of uninsured, but few politicians have the political backbone to take on the massive insurance and health care industries.
Take Pennsylvania for example. Bills to help small businesses deal with the high cost of providing health insurance coverage for their workers have been lagging in Legislative committees for years.
Senate Bill 671, introduced by Pennsylvania state Sen. Rob Wonderling, and House Bill 1240, introduced by Pennsylvania state Rep. Curt Schroder, would go a long way to helping some of the nearly 400,000 working Pennsylvanians who don't have health insurance.
The only opposition to the bills has come from the powerful insurance lobby, which is looking at its healthy bottom line. Thanks to pressure from well-financed lobbyists, the bills haven't made it out of committee in either of the past two legislative sessions.
Pennsylvania is one of only two states (Hawaii is the other) that do not regulate "for-profit" insurance companies. That means that insurance companies can raise their premiums as high as they want each year. Rate increases of 20 percent, 25 percent, 30 percent are typical. Last time I checked the rate of inflation is hovering around 3 percent.
Why settle for a measly 3 percent when you can charge 30 percent? Insurance companies get away with it because powerful Legislative chairmen refuse to allow bills to the floor for a vote.
The bills would bring "for-profit" insurance companies under the same regulations as "non-profit" agencies such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the HMOs doing business in Pennsylvania.
The legislation would level the playing field and provide access to health insurance for thousands more working Pennsylvanians. Without regulation, these "for-profit" insurance companies can pick and choose which workers to cover. They can deny coverage to workers with pre-existing conditions or drop them for no reason. They can also charge whatever they want for premiums and raise those premiums 10 or 20 times the rate of inflation if they so choose.
That has forced small employers -- the backbone of Pennsylvania's economy -- to pass on costs to their workers and their families or drop health coverage entirely for employees.
The health crisis in this country is enormous. It's easy to throw your hands up and give up because it's such a hurdle to climb. Congress has done that repeatedly.
It may be up to the states to help their people gain access to affordable health insurance. Massachusetts has taken a bold step. When will Pennsylvania and other states follow?
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas