Today, in her testimony before the Subcommittee on Health, CAPAF Senior Fellow Elizabeth Edwards strongly criticized so-called consumer-driven health care models for erroneously equating health insurance with other consumer goods.
“We’re not selling toilet paper here, we’re not selling televisions, we are selling an essential part of people’s lives and it needs to be thought of that way,” Edwards noted:
Deciding between the costs and benefits of various cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery will simply never be the same as choosing between purchasing a Dodge, Pontiac, and Lincoln.
Indeed, individuals who can’t afford a luxury vehicle can downsize to an economy standard, rely on public transportation, or carpool when necessary. But no such crutch exists for health insurance. Americans who don’t have access to insurance can’t piggy-back off of another plan, and, as a result, forego preventive care, allow chronic diseases to go untreated, and postpone needed treatments.
Consequently, “137,000 people died from 2000 through 2006 because they lacked health insurance, including 22,000 people in 2006.” Americans who “lack health insurance will spend about $30 billion out of pocket on medical care this year, but others — mainly the government — will end up covering another $56 billion in costs.”
But plans in the individual market do little to lower health care costs for Americans who actually use care. “The individual market is notorious in its poor provision of coverage,” providing insurance “as long as you stay young healthy” and jacking-up premiums or conducting another round of medical underwriting once sickness strikes. For insurance to have any value, “it needs to cover the treatments and services people need and deserve.” Any comprehensive reform, Edwards argued, must strengthen the role of the group market and “address health care for all and cost containment simultaneously”:
The question is not whether we can afford to ensure that all Americans have health coverage. The question is whether or not we can afford to leave people behind.
Edwards recalled the story of an uninsured single mother who whispered to her that she needed a cancer screening but couldn’t cover its costs. “As she whispered in my ear,” Edwards concluded, “she is [now] whispering in yours.”