Good health is the most basic human need and essential to success and prosperity.
The idea that health care should be available to everyone at an affordable price seems easy to support. But achieving that has become a divisive issue in this country with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Before it went into law, more than 47 million non-elderly Americans were uninsured. Reducing that number is the overall goal of the ACA. There are many advantages that come with recent health care reform: Insurance carriers are no longer able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, the $1 million lifetime coverage cap is eliminated and young people can stay on a parent’s insurance until age 26.
But there is also a cost, both financially and philosophically, to those who oppose a government mandate for everyone to purchase health insurance. And while President Barack Obama had promised people could keep their current insurance plans that turned out not to be true — 140,000 Minnesotans learned their policies would be discontinued because their policy did not meet the new standards of coverage required by the ACA.
The potential long-term benefits of the Affordable Care Act have been clouded by a short-term focus on the disastrous rollout, at the federal and many state levels, including Minnesota. Poorly tested before it went live, these systems have been plagued with technical glitches. Gov. Mark Dayton, in a recent interview with the ECM Editorial Board, said the state’s rollout of MNsure is the most disappointing issue in his first term.
And the March 31 open enrollment deadline is looming. While final numbers won’t come in for a few more weeks, leading up to the deadline the statistics were well below projections.
Young people, a group coined as “the invincibles,” aren’t enrolling at anticipated levels, which may affect rates as the groups are skewed to contain older populations requiring more care. Only time will tell if escalating annual penalties will encourage this generation to purchase health care on the exchange.
But achieving good health requires more than just having insurance, and health reform needs to go beyond the current coverage mandates.
According to the Kaiser Foundation, 32 percent of Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills. More than half of those are insured on employer-sponsored plans. So they have health insurance they and their employers pay for. But the cost of routine care, chronic conditions and catastrophic events continues to bankrupt everyday Americans, who are paying their way.
The United States spends more per capita on health care than any other country, but outcomes are not necessarily commensurate. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an economic group made up of 34 nations, the U.S. spends $8,507 per person each year on health care. The average among these developed countries was $3,321, with Norway coming in second at $5,669. But the U.S. ranks 28th among these nations in life expectancy.
Nearly every health care procedure costs more in the United States, although the U.S. does lead the world in medical research, lowest wait times and cancer treatment outcomes.
But for all of the money and energy poured into research and technology, the outcomes don’t always match the effort.
There has never been a time where it has been more important for us to take control of our own health.
Over the next several months, the ECM Editorial Board will identify key health issues facing our communities and weigh in on what can be done to improve our overall well-being.
Stigmas and challenges still surround mental illness. People are reluctant to talk with others about their depression, but wouldn’t think twice about commenting on their heart problems or cancer diagnosis. The mental health system struggles to get timely and adequate help for those in need. As a result, the state’s prisons and jails are full of mentally ill people.
Drug abuse is widespread and every week there are reports about escalating addiction to heroin and prescription medication in the Twin Cities and throughout the state. But it’s not as simple as just saying no to drugs. If you look closely, drug abuse often has strong ties to social isolation, poverty and poor education. The roots of this problem need to be addressed.
There is also new research showing the long-term effects of early childhood trauma on both mental and physical health. Death of a parent, abuse or a violent upbringing can play a part in a child’s long-term health. But if the crisis is addressed early and accurately, we might be able to change the course.
Good health is within our reach and many of the issues that ail us can be solved. With your help and suggestions we hope to begin a discussion that may lead to happier and healthier lives for us all.
An opinion from the ECM Publishers Editorial Board. The Record is part of ECM Publishers Inc.