Opinion: Number of uninsureds hits alarming level
By Nick Kotik
During the last days of April, we recognized National Cover the Uninsured Week. I say “recognized,” because “celebrate” would be the incorrect word.
The designation helps raise the awareness that not just tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of people in Pennsylvania and other states are living without health insurance.
So there is no reason to celebrate until the numbers begin to go down. And until they do, I will continue to do my part in raising awareness of possible solutions to the health insurance crisis that is plaguing us every day.
A shortage of affordable and accessible health-care coverage is a problem that is occurring across the United States. Pennsylvania is not immune. Hundreds of thousands of working residents are currently without health-care insurance. These aren’t the unemployed, but rather are people who work but can’t afford health coverage or who are not offered coverage from their employers.
When it comes to affordable health care in this state, misery loves company. People who buy into private coverage are struggling, too. They are spending a large part of their disposable income on premiums, and some are dropped from their plans or can’t obtain insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition.
To address these and other health-care issues, House Democrats have put forth, and passed, a plan that would provide Pennsylvania citizens with access to affordable health-care coverage.
Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care, or PA ABC, would provide the state’s working uninsured access to basic care, including prescription drug benefits and preventive check-ups.
The plan would also immediately provide affordable health insurance to the 80,000 Pennsylvanians who are on the state’s adult basic waiting list. The measure passed the House on March 17, and is now waiting for a vote by the state Senate.
PA ABC would make $42 million available for grants to small-business owners to help them defray the costs of providing health-care coverage for their employees. It also would continue to help doctors pay their medical malpractice insurance premiums so we can retain our health-care professionals. And by small businesses, I don’t mean only those with one, two or three workers. The plan would cover companies with up to 50 employees.
When the uninsured need care, they tend to go to the closest emergency room for care. It’s not because they necessarily want to; it’s because they feel they have to. That would change under PA ABC. It would lower the cost of uncompensated care for hospitals because affordable health care would now be available to so many people. The need to go to the emergency room would be eliminated for those people.
The cost to hospitalsd of uncompensated care currently reaches about $1.4 billion annually and adds hundreds of dollars to everyone’s insurance premiums. This is a true example of how this problem impacts everyone, even the insured. If it gets worse for the uninsured, it will get worse for the insured, too.
We marked April 27 through May 3 as National Cover the Uninsured Week in the U.S. Next year, hopefully, Pennsylvania will be celebrating by covering the uninsured. But in order for that to happen, the bill has to keep moving through the process right to the governor’s desk. First, it needs to be passed by the Senate. Let the Senate know if you want to see PA ABC become a reality.
You can contact me about this issue by calling my Coraopolis office at 412-264-4260 or by sending me an e-mail through my Web site: www.pahouse.com/kotik