An open letter to my peers

OK friends. It’s time for some real talk here. I’m broke, too. I’m all for taking responsibility for one’s own health and actions, too. That’s why I support the Affordable Care Act.

So, you don’t want to pay for “someone else’s health care?” Neither do I. The problem is, I already do—whether I like it or not. Because when someone who is uninsured or underinsured goes to the emergency room, they have to be treated, whether or not they can pay for that treatment. Hospitals provided $62.1 billion worth of care in 2009 that was never paid for. And when hospitals are faced with those kinds of losses, they have to raise prices for those who can pay. That means higher sticker prices for those who pay out of pocket, and higher premiums for those who have insurance. Families USA estimated that in 2008, the cost of higher insurance premiums due to uncompensated care was $1,017 per family and $368 per individual. So what about all those claims from the red side of the aisle that premiums would skyrocket under the law? Turns out those “rate shock” claims were false—apparently when insurance companies are forced to compete for people’s business in a transparent manner, consumers win.

Friends, the question isn’t whether you want to pay for someone else’s health care, but rather how you would like to pay, and how much you would like those costs to increase in the future. In 2010 the Urban Institute projected that without reform the cost of uncompensated care in the U.S. would rise to up to $141 billion in 2019, whereas it would “dramatically reduce” with the passage of the health reform bill. Yet, the main economic burden of uninsurance comes not from uncompensated care, but rather from the loss of productivity caused by poorer health outcomes among the uninsured—who often don’t get the care they need early enough, if at all. According to the Institute of Medicine, the economic cost of uninsurance to society is between $65 billion and $130 billion annually.

If health reform is so great, you may ask, why do you keep hearing such horrible things about it? Well, perhaps you should consider the source of that information. Because when the same people who bash the individual mandate when it’s connected to a Democratic president claim that it’s “clearly consistent with conservative values” when it’s connected to a Republican governor, you might start to think that their opposition to the law has less to do with the law itself, and more to do with who came up with it. When their best alternative to the law they claim is such a bad deal for the American people is shutting down the government entirely, and when their desire to accomplish this goal is strong enough that they have no problem lying to the American people to do so, you might start to question whether they really have your best interests at heart.

Look, I don’t think the law is perfect either. But I do think that something had to be done to at least begin to fix our broken system. The U.S. is almost entirely alone among industrialized countries in its failure to provide universal healthcare to its citizens, yet we still pay more than twice as much per person on healthcare than countries that have “socialized” medicine. And people like you and I—the “young invincibles,” as some would call us, have worse health outcomes than young people in any other developed country. If you have objections to the law, please speak up! But you’re gonna have to go beyond saying how much you hate it an give me some constructive solutions that would work in the real world.

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