Health care system is weighing down America

By J. Mark Ryan, M.D.
Letters, The Newport (R.I.) Daily News, Dec. 10, 2011

An article in the Dec. 1 Daily News stated that Newport Hospital provided more than $16 million in uncompensated care in the past fiscal year. The report concluded this crucial community hospital continues to operate in large part due to the charity of wealthy donors.

What I was surprised not to see was mention of the fact that this problem is a nationwide crisis and is due not to Rhode Island’s struggling economy, but to the fact that the funding of American health care is fatally flawed.

Hospitals like Newport provide free care because so many in the community lack health insurance. More than 50 million people nationally and 10 percent of all Rhode Islanders are uninsured, and a larger number are “underinsured,” meaning that because of the high deductibles, co-pays and caps on their insurance policies, a single critical illness such as cancer will bankrupt them. Nationally, more than 50 percent of all bankruptcies in 2010 were due to medical bills, and of those bankrupted, more than 60 percent had insurance at the onset of their illness. America pays roughly $7,800 annually per person in health care costs. For a little more than half that amount, Canada and Europe insure every citizen and medical bankruptcies do not occur. Why? Because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consumes about one-third of all U.S. health care dollars. Even worse, it is estimated that 48,000 Americans die each year due to a lack of health insurance.

In 2003, the New England Journal of Medicine, using the government’s own data, found that the U.S. could save $350 billion annually by changing from our current wasteful private-insurance system to a national single-payer system — enough savings to provide all necessary health care coverage for every American. One might ask, if the facts are so obvious, why does the government not enact these changes? The answer is: lobbyists.

In the summer of 2010, the health insurance industry spent $170 million per month to kill the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and succeeded in stripping it of the public option and earlier Medicare eligibility. The weakened bill will not save money or fix the problem.

However, there is a bill in the House of Representatives, HR 676, the Medicare for All Act, which would create a single-payer system with the savings mentioned above. The bill has 72 sponsors in the House; unfortunately, they do not include Reps. David Cicilline or Jim Langevin. I would urge all Daily News readers to write to our congressmen to do the right thing for Rhode Islanders and our health care system and sign on as co-sponsors of this bill.

We cannot afford the current system.

It is literally killing us and bankrupting our country.

Dr. J. Mark Ryan resides in Portsmouth, R.I.