Health Care Must Be Guaranteed for All

October 14, 2003

On September 29, the Census Bureau reported that 2.4 million Americans lost their health insurance last year. This was the largest increase in 10 years and brought the total number of uninsured to 43.6 million or 15.2% of the population.

The uninsured include 8.5 million children and 20 million full-time workers. According to the Census Bureau, one primary reason for the dramatic increase in the uninsured is the fact that employers are slashing health coverage for their workers. In 2002 only 61.3% of Americans were covered through employer-sponsored health plans. In 1980, nearly all workers were covered under employer-paid plans.

At the same time, workers who remain covered are being forced to pay more and more in co-premiums, co-payments and deductibles. According to a comprehensive study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, since 1988 the cost of co-premiums for workers increased by 400%-500%. In 1988, the average co-premium for single coverage was only $8/ month but by 2002, the figure was $42/month; for family coverage the average co-premium was went from $52/month to $201/month. When the cost of deductibles and co-payments are added in, the average family with employer-sponsored insurance paid $2,412/year in health expenses. The Kaiser survey also indicated that for the coming year, 79% of all employers plan to raise the cost of employee contributions.

Yet even while the private sector is failing to provide vitally needed coverage, the government is also slashing funds for health care. Over the last 3 years, every state has made drastic cuts in Medicaid, the primary health insurance program for the poor. Thirty-four states reduced or restricted eligibility for Medicaid; 35 states slashed benefits, reducing or eliminating coverage for dental, vision, physicians' visits, home care and other services; and 32 states increased co-payments required from beneficiaries, especially co-payments for prescription drugs but also for doctor's visits, outpatient services , hearing, vision, dental and other services. The trend of cutbacks in Medicaid is also expected to continue.

This situation is a criminal indictment of the current health care system. The problem is that health care is produced not to meet the needs of the people and guarantee their health but with sole aim of maximizing profits for the health care monopolies. Thus as the big HMO's and insurance companies keep raising prices, companies keep slashing health care benefits as a way of cutting wages and the government refuses to recognize that health care is a right which must be guaranteed for every American.

It is up to the people to come into the political arena and demand a fundamental change. The profit-motive must be taken out of health care and the government must be required to make all the investments needed to guarantee comprehensive and free care for everyone.