Thursday, April 28, 2005

Health Insurance Celebration

Happy Cover the Uninsured Week.

Obviously, there's really nothing here to celebrate.

Among recent studies, lack of insurance is associated with poorer patient outcomes in colon cancer, psychiatric care (less care given, more proportional hospital admissions for suicide), and the elderly in general just to name a few examples.

Another disturbing recent study suggests that it is very common for front-line nonmedical hospital bureaucrats interacting with patients to arbitrarily apply rules limiting healthcare access to uninsured patients.

I am not advocating universal coverage at any price. There are tradeoffs to universal coverage, which may include waiting time, choice of physician, or availability of certain services, if the experience of other countries is a guide. What's more, in a free society people should be able to take the calculated risk of opting out of health insurance. At the same time, it should be available at a reasonable price to everyone, in a society where medical care can make a profound difference in quality and quantity of life. As I indicated in previous posts, the healthcare industry is so different from an ideal free market that it makes a lot of sense for government to be an active player in setting up the environment for competition in such a way that as many people have access as possible.

As extended families have become dispersed across the country with our growing mobility over the last century, Americans have come to rely on nursing homes, home health, acute care hospitals and other institutions to take care of our elderly; health care is not just a product, it is an integral part of our system of looking after each other. That is not to say that health care is a right; but it has become a necessity.

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