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Taking a Chance on Health Care

By Eileen Falk,


Can you imagine if your ability to get health care was based on whether or not someone pulled your name out of a hat? For many uninsured people, that nightmare is a reality. Virginia’s Arlington Free Clinic has been forced to conduct a lottery every month to pick who will have access to treatment at the clinic, and who is left with nowhere to turn.

Of the 140 people who showed up this month, only 25 were chosen, leaving 115 people out of luck. And each month, the number of people who are turned away is increasing.

Of course, these people are still sick and in need of care. Due to the high cost of health care services, however, many cannot afford to pay for the treatment they need. And, without care, most of them get sicker. Many end up needing more intensive and expensive care and are unable to pay the full cost of this care out of pocket. A report by Families USA showed that uninsured people were only able to pay for slightly more than one-third of their own health care, with the majority of the rest going unpaid. The cost of unpaid care leads to higher charges for health services for those with insurance and drives the cost of premiums up. This is called the “hidden health tax” – and it is estimated that in 2008, this hidden tax cost the average insured family more than $1,000.

This is exactly the type of thing that the Affordable Care Act is trying to prevent. The Affordable Care Act will help Americans get the health care they need, without having to crowd the free clinics and cross their fingers, hoping for a lucky break. Beginning in 2014, Americans with incomes lower than 133% ($22,350 for a family of four in 2011) will qualify for Medicaid, and help with premiums will be provided to families and individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid. Similarly, out-of-pocket costs will be capped so no American has to spend too much on medical bills. Already, uninsured young adults up to age 26 can remain on their parent’s health insurance plan, and federal and state programs are providing help to those with pre-existing conditions who have been denied coverage in the past.

As long as we continue to support the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and resist efforts to overturn and thwart it, relying on luck and slim chances to get health care will be a remnant of America’s past. With health reform, we can look forward to a not-so-distant future where no American can be turned away from receiving the care they need.