A setback for U.S. health care

Today, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson dealt a legal blow to President Obama’s health care overhaul by declaring it unconstitutional. At issue is whether the federal government has the authority to mandate universal insurance coverage.

I obviously can’t speak to the constitutional issues. But I can say with some certainty that the current system is untenable. According to the Kaiser Institute:
• Health care costs in the U.S. more than tripled between 1990 and 2008.
• Health care costs continue to rise at between 4% and 6% per year,  faster than Americans’ wages.
• In 2008, U.S. health care spending accounted for 16.2% of the GDP — among the highest of all industrialized nations.

Those figures don’t tell the full story, of course. Behind those figures are people’s lives.

A couple of weeks ago I paid an unexpected visit to an oncologist. After talking to a “financial counselor,” I was keenly aware that any treatment would exact a cost.

It seemed monumentally unfair that the frail, weakened people in that waiting room should have to cope not only with the stress of a life-threatening illness and the discomfort of the treatments, but that they should also be financially burdened by their ordeal.

It also gave me pause to consider that they — that I — could be dropped by our insurers or denied future coverage because of our pre-existing conditions. What kind of a ripple effect might that have on our families, our friends, and even our communities?

I don’t think a government program is the solution, of course. Americans should still have the option of buying private insurance if they so choose. But I think a nationalized health plan must be a part of the solution.

We can debate the constitutionality of the health care overhaul until we’re blue in the face. But for me, it all comes down to one simple fact: As long as there are uninsured Americans, we’ll all pay the price.

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