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As Health Costs Rise, Loss of Coverage Accelerates

Amid all the misleading talk about "death panels," the "public option," and the supposed "government takeover" of health care, it's easy to miss how the lack of healthcare reform is affecting Americans. But Families USA, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, is doing its best to keep our eyes on the prize.

Families USA's most recent report shows the toll that rapidly rising healthcare costs are taking on the insured. From 2000 to 2009, the report said, the cost of employer-based insurance for a family increased by 95.2 percent, while median family income advanced only 17.5 percent. Families USA blamed the huge rate increase on "the rising cost and increased use of medical treatments, inadequate oversight of insurance companies, lack of competition among insurers in many markets, and cost shifting from the growing numbers of uninsured to the insured," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. It estimated that more than $1,000 was tacked on to every insured family's bill in 2008 for the care that the uninsured received.

With the number of uninsured Americans approaching 50 million, Families USA projects that 6.9 million more of us will lose our coverage by the end of 2010. While rising unemployment is partly responsible, so is the cost of coverage. "Between 1998 and 2008, the average family premium more than doubled, soaring from $5,791 to $12,680, an increase of 119 percent," the report said. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2008, the percent of firms offering coverage dropped from 69 percent to 63 percent.

In a different report, Families USA used Congressional Budget Office data to calculate how much the reform bill in the House of Representatives would increase coverage. It said that the House measure would lead to coverage of 23 million more people in 2013, the first year of implementation, and 37 million people by 2019. That isn't universal coverage, but it's a heckuva lot closer to it than we are today.

The House bill would expand coverage in several ways, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. It would stop insurance companies from excluding people with preexisting insurance conditions. It would offer sliding-scale subsidies to people with incomes up to four times the federal poverty level so they could afford insurance. It would limit out of pocket costs when people get sick, and it would strengthen the safety net for the poor. Moreover, by reducing the number of uninsured, it would decrease the cost shift to the insured, thereby lowering premiums.

The shouting on the left and the right will accomplish nothing except possibly dooming us to many more years of declining access to healthcare. If we want to do something for our country, it's time to step up and support reform. While the final result will not completely satisfy anyone, it will be a whole lot better than the status quo.

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