“Consumers facing increased medical expenses are likely to report decreasing their contributions to retirement savings plans (29 percent), taking on credit card debt (22 percent), and experiencing difficulty paying for basic necessities like food, heat and housing (27 percent) as a result of their medical costs” according to Community Catalyst’s report, When Coverage Fails: Causes and Remedies for Inadequate Health Insurance.
The report discusses the ramifications of being under-insured, such as poor health and financial difficulties. According to the report, 50% of bankruptcies in 2007 were the result of medical debt. That same year, 25 million were under-insured–a 60% increase from 2003–meaning their insurance was not comprehensive, forcing them to forgo or delay medical treatments, preventative tests and doctor visits. The report concluded that the federal government could help alleviate the situation by setting standards for coverage and limiting deductibles.
There are many ways in which the term under-insured is used. How does Community Catalyst define ‘underinsured’? By analyzing the income of those with insurance and the out-of-pocket costs of health care they pay, and determining when those costs become too great of a barrier to overcome. The Commonwealth Fund classifies individuals as under-insured when more than 10% of their income (which is 200% below the federal poverty level) on out-of-pocket health expenses, or whose deductible consumed 5% of their income. The report found that families paid the highest deductibles, and those purchasing their insurance on their own (not through their employer) are more likely to be under-insured.
Beyond Parity: Primary Care Physicians’ Perspectives On Access to Mental Health Care, an article featured in health policy journal Health Affairs, explores accessing mental health care from a different point of view. According to Peter Cunningham, a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change, found that in 2004-2005, more than 60% of primary care physicians were unable to obtain out-patient services for their patients seeking mental health care, a rate that is twice as high as barriers to other health related services. The report concludes that since the 1990′s, a little over 30% of patients in need of mental health care actually receive it. Among those providers that reported difficulty in accessing mental health care for patients were pediatricians. Problems also stemmed from the fact that there are shortages of mental health providers in the community.
The recession has left virtually no one unaffected, and those with chronic ailments are definitely no exception. The New York Daily News reports that diabetics are cutting back on visits to the doctor, insulin and blood sugar testing, actions that could have lethal repercussions. Adding to the severity of the situation, more individuals are being diagnosed with diabetes each year, with 1.6 million new cases in 2007. Without insurance, the cost of care for diabetics can range from $350 to $900 each month. Furthermore, the medications and treatments for the condition have declined.
The New York Times recently published an article detailing the case of a man whose insurance company paid for the removal of his brain tumor, but not complete cost of the cancer pills that his doctor prescribed for his treatment. The pills, Temodar, cost $5,500 for the first 42-day, then $1,700 each month thereafter. In cases of cancer, oral drugs are quickly replacing IV treatments as the most successful options, but insurance companies and prescription drug plans often do not cover the treatment. Only providing minimal coverage, these plan often leave patients to pay the majority of the bill. As result, some patients are not able to receive the medications that they desperately need. Medicare Part D’s “doughnut hole” is another factor contributing to the lack of access to health care and prescription drugs. Not only do oral cancer drugs require a 25% co-pay, the doughnut hole ceases to provide coverage when health care costs reach $2,700; coverage is reinstated after beneficiaries pay health costs totaling more than $3000 out-of-pocket.
President Obama’s health care plan that offers options similar to that of Medicare could save Americans up to 30% on their health care premiums costs. According to MoveOn.org:
- Health care costs are spiraling out of control. From 2000 to 2008, health insurance premiums increased five times faster than wages.
- A public health insurance option would provide an affordable, quality alternative. Two new studies show that Americans could save 25% or more off of a traditional private plan. The New York Times says this would “keep the private plans honest.” They’ll have to lower rates and offer better value to compete.
- Plus, a public health insurance option would be reliable coverage for all. Private insurers are notorious for dumping people with little notice. A public option would allow consumers who’ve been dropped—or just don’t like their current coverage—to switch to a steady public choice.
Join MoveOn.org and other health advocates and send a message to Congress, telling them how you could use the 30% savings.
On April 13th, 2009, Raising Women’s Voices hosted the NYC regional meeting of Health Care for America Now. The event was attended by advocates from various organizations committed to health reform, including Committee of Interns and Resident/SEIU Healthcare, Metro NY Health Care for All, ACORN, AFL-CIO, 1199 SEIU, Children’s Defense Fund of NY, Make the Road NY, MoveOn.org, Nation Physicians Alliance, New York Immigration Coalition, Community Service Society, Communication Workers of America, New Yorker’s for Fiscal Fairness and others.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, pictured with Raising Women’s Voices co-founder Lois Uttely, was also in attendance. The Senator had the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of several constituents who struggled to access and pay for comprehensive health care, before addressing the meeting with her reactions and commitment to health care reform. One woman from NYC for Change shared her story about being diagnosed with cancer over ten years ago, and the struggles she has had to face. Speaking directly to the Senator, she shared her personal feeling that fighting the insurance companies is harder than fighting her cancer.
In response to the stories shared and the advocates present, Senator Gillibrand has voiced her commitment HCAN’s Core Principles by:
- Pushing for a Medicare-for-all public plan
- Supporting the budget reconciliation process in the Senate that would require majority vote for health reform
- Supporting programs, such as S-CHIP, that remove the 5 year waiting period that legal immigrants must meet for eligibility requirements
Click here for a list of the 185 Congressional members that support HCAN’s core principles, (including President Obama).
If the uninsured were an organized lobby group, Congress would have a tough time trying ignore their demands. The recession has contributed to the increased numbers of insured, pushing the numbers to over 50 million.
So what’s the problem? Health care, accessing it and paying for it, are still regarded as private issues, rather than ones of public debate. But what cannot be stressed enough is that health care affects us all. According to one writer of the Associated Press, “People who lose coverage often struggle alone instead of turning their frustration into political action”.
Health Care for America NOW!, (HCAN) a grassroots organization that advocates for quality, affordable health care for all, plans to bring more than 15,000 individuals to Washington, D.C. to lobby on the behalf of the uninsured. Campaign director Richard Kirsch notes that many of the uninsured do not have the opportunity to partake in events such as the one being organized by HCAN due to fiscal and familial restraints, which is why it is important to have those numbers represented in health reform activism.
With a presidential administration committed to health care reform and advocates across the country working for quality, affordable, comprehensive and accessible health care–the time to act is now!
Over 125 women and health advocates came together on April 1st, 2009 to participate in the National Women’s Speak-Out for Health Reform. Free and open to the public, women shared their personal stories and experiences with the health care system. Issues raised included affordability and access to care, the occurrence of high medical debt, being uninsured and under-insured, experiencing language barriers and the lack of cultural competency. Women shared stories about not being able to access coverage due to ‘pre-existing conditions’ and the difficulty in navigating the medical and insurance system, as well as the public assistance programs.
In addition to the Speak-Out, workshops were held with speakers and moderators from various health and policy organizations, including the National Women’s Health Network, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Health Law Program, Families USA, Health Care for America NOW!, the Boston Women’s Health Collective, the National Council of La Raza, the National Latina Institutefor Reproductive Health, and many more. Participants had the opportunity to learn how to listen and elicit stories, addressing how to remain accountable and ethical when gathering and sharing those stories. An entire workshop was devoted to learning about various multi-media options and new technologies available to advocates for reaching out to broader bases of supporters. Health policy experts from the state and national levels also shared some strategies to address the some of the challenges that lie ahead in the debate on health care reform.
What were some of the take-away lessons? Be bold and raise your voice! Talk with members of your community, post information on blogs and networking sites. Contact elected officials, at all levels of government, by phone or schedule a visit. Discuss with them proposed legislation that will affect members of your community, as well as past legislation that contributes to health disparities, such as the Hyde Amendment. Organize your own speak-out using our guide (available on the RWV website). Bring all the voices to the table: we may be women, but we are also teenagers, seniors, mothers, immigrants, survivors of abuse, cancer and many other illnesses, people with disabilities, members of various religious, ethnic, racial and sexual backgrounds. Together, we can achieve health care for all.
Visit the Raising Women’s Voices website for video, pictures and transcripts from the event….coming soon!
“…[W]e are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.”
Women’s health is inextricably tied to our nation’s economic well-being, and economic policy should not be void of considering women’s reproductive health issues. Republic House leader, John Boehner, asks
“”How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?
Women and children make up a majority of the nation’s poor. Comprising 70 percent of minimum-wage and below-minimum-wage workers, women struggle to attain financial equity in within the workforce. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argues that the inclusion of family planning in Medicaid would prove to be money-saving. In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the Family Planning Medicaid Expansion would actually save the federal government more than $200 million over 5 years. The recent rescinding of family planning expansion from the economic recovery package in an effort to garner Republican support ignores the importance of women’s health and its link to the economy.
The American Cancer Society and Kaiser Family Foundation issued a report yesterday on 20 patients who have been diagnosed with cancer or other serious illnesses and the difficulties they have had in accessing affordable health care. The report, Spending to Survive: Cancer Patients Confront Holes in the Health Insurance System, identifies 5 major gaps that cancer patients experience after they have been diagnosed.
First, caps on benefits can lead to high out-of-pocket expenses. Second, employer-based health coverage may not cover catastrophically high health costs. Third, finding an adequate individual plan can be difficult, both for those recently diagnosed and for those in remission. Fourth, high-risk pools are either not available in some states or not affordable. Finally, the waiting periods and eligibility restrictions leave many patients in a period of limbo, in which they are without affordable coverage while waiting to be access public programs.