Health care costs represent 15 percent of the national gross domestic product and are projected to rise to 19 percent by 2009.
“Right now, the way the system is funded, we’re just rearranging chairs on the Titanic,” said Michelle Swanson, executive director of Health Care for All Colorado. “No one is assured health care – even if you think you’re insured. They can drop the policy at any time, deny coverage. And it’s clear that the more people who don’t have insurance, the more costly it is.”
To increase awareness about the rising health care crisis, May 1-7 has been designated “Cover the Uninsured Week.”
Cindy Wacker is a nurse at Penrose-St. Francis Health Systems. “We see quite a few people who don’t have insurance, and that’s leading to serious crisis in their lives,” she said. “We just want to spend this week, raising awareness of the problem, and letting people know how to access health care.”
The committee responsible for the Colorado Springs version of the national event is targeting small business owners.
Gary Smith helps the underserved access community health programs at Provision Plus. He said he hopes “Cover the Uninsured Week” will serve to highlight the problem among Colorado Springs employers.
“More than 80 percent of the uninsured work,” Smith said. “And for some reason, they aren’t getting access to the programs that are out there. Fewer than 25 percent of the children eligible for the CHP+ (Child Health Plan Plus) program are enrolled. My job is to let employers know what’s out there and allow their employees to access it.”
Part of Smith’s plan is a collaboration with Peak Vista. The clinic offers a “membership” to uninsured employees called Healthy Workforce. For $25 a month, employees can get access to a primary care doctor.
“It’s not insurance, but it is better than not having anything,” he said. “My hope is to give employers a packet to give to uninsured workers – just like the benefits package that insured workers receive – that lets them know about what is out there, what’s available to them.”
Swanson said health care costs are one of the reasons that U.S. businesses are moving jobs overseas.
“Health care costs – insurance costs – add $1,600 onto every American-made car,” she said. “Companies are outsourcing, so they don’t have to pay the astronomical costs of covering their workers.”
Health Care for all Colorado supports universal health care with a single payer system, she said. The single payer would be a quasi-public entity. Doctors and hospitals would remain private. This change would end the insurance industry, Swanson said.
“Only one-third of premium dollars go to health care,” she said. “The rest are spent on escalating administrative costs and on profits for shareholders. That’s according to American Medical News.”
System-wide reform – regardless of the path it takes – will save billions of dollars in health care costs, according to the National Coalition on Health Care, an alliance that includes businesses, unions, health care providers, patient and consumer groups, insurers and health funds.
“The costs of a reformed system would be less – much less – than the cost of continuing with the status quo,” the group’s 2005 report said. “Even after taking into account the costs of universal coverage, annual system-wide savings would be between $125 billion and $182 billion in the 10th year of implementing reform. Cumulative savings for that same 10-year period would range from $320 billion to $1.1 trillion.”
The coalition found that all types of reform generated savings: employer mandates, expanding public programs that cover subsets of the uninsured, creation of new programs targeted at the uninsured and the establishment of a universal, publicly financed program.
Smith said he favors total reform of the system, but believes there are more “practical” methods in place to meet the needs of the underserved population in Colorado Springs.
“I don’t want to give up hope that one day there will be 100 percent access across the board,” he said. “But I’ve been hearing those ideas for a long time. I finally decided that there were two ways of approaching this problem. First, things are the way they are for a reason, mostly economic. There are powerful economic forces that oppose universal health care.”
Smith focuses on what is available in health care, the options for the underserved. He said the issue isn’t financial.
“We spend money on health care,” he said. “I think both hospitals spend about $100 million on uncompensated health care. When you add the value of Peak Vista, and the three faith-based clinics, there is a lot of money out there. So you look at those resources and you get the information out there to the people who need it. It’s better than waiting for the ‘white knight’ solution.”