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Access to health care is one of the biggest issues in our politics. 47 million Americans, 9 million of them children, lack health insurance, and 10's of millions more have insurance that is less than adequate. As a result, more and more Americans are visiting emergency rooms or doing without.

This is an enormous problem for those without access to health insurance, but it also has an impact on those with decent insurance.

If you have adequate health insurance and are inclined to think this issue doesn't affect you, let me assure you that it does. The cost of insurance for those with coverage is escalating in part because the number of uninsured Americans keeps rising, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit, national organization that advocates for high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

Using data from the Census Bureau, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the National Center for Health Statistics, Families USA determined that the unpaid expenses for the uninsured added an average $922 in 2005 to the premiums for employer-provided family health insurance. That extra cost could rise to $1,502 in 2010, the group found.

That's more than 7% of the cost of an insurance policy for a family of 4, just to cover the uninsured.

For every free marketeer who says the government should stay out of health care, that there is no way we will ever accept socialized medicine, we already have it. Every time someone waits too long for care, they wind up in the emergency room, and we pay many times what it would cost to provide the care early on. On top of that, we also pay more for our own insurance.

Lavizzo-Mourey said minorities, who disproportionately suffer from chronic illnesses, often avoid getting critical screening or skip treatment because they lack health insurance. She shared the story of Ruth, a diabetic African American in her 50s who came into a clinic with an ulcer on her foot. By the time she sought help, she needed more care than the clinic could offer.

Health care in this country is way past the point of being in crisis. With the cost of an insurance policy over $12,000 for a family of 4 and rising, and with the out of pocket expenses also rising, before insurance kicks in, the number of uninsured and under insured is going to rise as well.

And so much of our health care costs are not going to health care. Up to 20% of our insurance goes to overhead. Insurance companies are making record profits, CEOs are making a fortune and health care claims are being denied for every reason the companies can think of. The pharmaceutical industry has one of the highest profit margins of any sector in the country. Yet they are over protected by Congress through patent extensions and preventing drug importation from Canada.

In the end, I don't have a problem with my doctors and hospitals making a decent profit. I want them to have the best tools and drugs available. I want them to be able to continue their education after school to be able to understand the latest treatments. And I want them to be happy enough with what they are doing so they will keep doing it, rather than leaving for a better job elsewhere.

I do, however, have a problem with the profits in the insurance industry. They are excessive, and provide precious little of value. That has to come to an end.

It is time for single payer. Everyone is covered, no exceptions made for pre-existing conditions, and since we are the shareholders, there is no conflict between making profits and providing the necessary services. It is by no means a perfect solution. We should not, for example, be paying for elective cosmetic surgery. But some combination of private insurance for elective surgery coupled with single payer for standard health care and drugs seems reasonable.

Originally posted to corwin on Sun Mar 23, 2008 at 07:32 AM PDT.

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