Medical debt: Medicare for All for everyone

By Richard A. Damon, M.D.
Ravalli Republic (Hamilton, Mont.), Letters, Jan. 19, 2014

Medical debt in this nation is rampant. One in three Americans report difficulty paying medical bills. The uninsured have the greatest challenge, but most people with difficulty paying medical bills actually have health insurance. Out-of-pocket medical expenses, before insurance kicks in, contribute greatly to individual medical debt. If you experience it, you know it can be severe and have far-reaching effects on your life.

People with unaffordable medical bills report higher rates of many related individual problems – like unaffordable housing, paying basic necessities, unpaid credit card bills, bankruptcy proceedings, transportation costs, chronic health conditions, rising premiums, insurance exclusions, job loss, income loss from illness, damaged credit, mounting drug costs, emotional distress and worry, depleted savings, cost of caring for sick family members.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and Georgetown University say the Affordable Care Act, even when fully implemented, will still leave horrendous individual medical debt, particularly due to intolerable cost-sharing measures. If you look at the whole picture, there is generally wrong-headed thinking about not providing health care as a human right to health in this nation.

Many conservatives believe individuals should be responsible for their own lot and use insurance only for catastrophic illness. They oppose comprehensive prepaid health care, believing people should pay for health services to discipline their health care judgments. Other nations provide first dollar coverage for health care, and yet keep total health spending well below ours.

Both the for-profit, market-based model, and the government-funded model, can control spending, but the former unsuccessfully does it by depriving people of health care, whereas the latter enables everyone to receive the care they need.

Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., figured out a way to get Medicare for All for the W.R. Grace victims of Libby; why not Medicare for All for everyone?

Dr. Richard A. Damon resides in Bozeman.