Remember the Uninsured?

Merrill Goozner

First published 5/10/11 on Gooz News

Amid all the talk about repealing health care reform and the need to change Medicare to a privatized voucher program because of rising costs, one never hears a single word from the deficit hawks about the uninsured. Remember them? There are about 50 million in the U.S., the only nation in the advanced industrial world without universal coverage. And the reform bill signed into law last year would reduce their ranks by about two-thirds. The Republican “path to prosperity,” which would repeal reform, did not even address the issue.

The Department of Health and Human Services today released a report that showed how much those uninsured are costing the rest of us — up to $73 billion a year, most of which is shifted onto the insured in the form of unpaid bills at the hospital. Reform would lower those costs by streamlining Medicare. The Republican plan would charge you higher premiums, unless, of course, they plan to repeal the law that requires hospitals to treat the uninsured when they show up on their doorsteps. Perhaps that’s next.

According to the study, the average uninsured family can only pay for 12 percent of its hospital bills when misfortune strikes, and their subsequent bankruptcies (about half of all personal bankrupticies in the U.S. are a result of unpaid medical bills) leave 95 percent of their bills unpaid. This should come as no surprise. The average household assets of the uninsured is $20, according to the report. Even uninsured families earning four times the federal poverty level (about $90,000 a year) have only $4,100 in average assets.

Compare that to the price of a typical hospital stay for a young family; having a baby. In my home state of Maryland, where there is uniform and posted pricing, the average price of a normal delivery is about $5,300. For C-section, now a third of births, that’s $7,500. Here’s a Hallmark Card for uninsured families having their first child. Welcome to the world, youngster. (Open Card). Your parents were uninsured. Your family is now bankrupt.

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