As the Supreme Court met to pass judgment on the 2010 health care law, the nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses warned that health care will remain beyond the reach of millions of Americans. “Whether the Court overturns part or all of the law or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains fully intact, we will not have universal coverage, medical bills will still push too many Americans into bankruptcy or prompt them to self-ration care, and insurance companies will continue to have a choke hold on our health,” said Deborah Burger, RN, co-president of 170,000-member National Nurses United (NNU).
Citing recent data about the ongoing health-care emergency, NNU Co-president Jean Ross noted that, “The consequences of the denial of care en masse—now and in the future, with or without the ACA—could not be more ominous. Only more comprehensive reform, Medicare for Life, for all Americans, will produce real health- care security for our country.” Even with some positive elements, such as permitting young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health plan, and some limits on insurance industry abuses, the health-care crisis will continue to worsen.
Despite its name, the Affordable Care Act has done little to actually make health care affordable. Out of pocket health costs for families continue to soar. Nurses now routinely see patients who have postponed needed care, even when it might be lifesaving, because of the high co-pays and deductibles. Delayed dental care illustrates the problem. A February Pew Center report noted a 16 percent jump in the number of Americans heading to emergency rooms for routine dental problems, at a cost of 10 times more than preventive care with fewer treatment options.
Premiums have jumped 50 percent on average the past 7 years, according to a Commonwealth Fund report last November, with more than 6 in 10 Americans now living in states where their premiums consume one-fifth or more of median earnings. Medical bills have been the leading cause of personal bankruptcy for years. Increasingly, they are ruining people’s credit as well. Another Commonwealth Fund report found that 30 million Americans were contacted by collection agencies in 2010 because of medical bills.
Fifty million still have no health coverage. Another 29 million are underinsured with massive holes in their health plans—up 80 percent since 2003—according to the journal Health Affairs. Gallup reported that the percentage of adults with no health insurance—17.3 percent in the third quarter of 2011—was the highest on record, up from 14.4 percent 3 years earlier.
Health-care quality in the U.S. continues to lag far behind other nations. Two examples: more than 80 percent of U.S. counties trail life expectancy rates of nations with the best life expectancies, the University of Washington found last June. Some U.S. counties are more than 50 years behind their international counterparts. The U.S. ranks just 41st in the world in death rates for child-bearing women and it has been getting worse, according to the World Health Organization.
The average mortality rate within 42 days of childbirth has doubled in two decades, partly due to cuts in federal spending for maternal and child health programs over the past 7 years. Our economic meltdown has exacerbated the crisis. For the past year, nurses have seen a spike in health problems associated with job loss, high medical bills, poor nutrition, and other economic factors. These include stress-induced heart ailments in younger patients, hypertension, anxiety, and “gut” disorders.
“More handouts to the private insurers and other health-care corporations will not improve these dreadful statistics,” said Burger. “The chokehold on our health by the same Wall Street types who tanked our economy is what has caused the falling health barometers on access, quality, and cost.”
“This country needs to take care of our people—not pretend to do so,” said Ross. “For two generations, Medicare has provided quality care to seniors at costs that are affordable. It’s time to deal with the reality of a nation in desperate need of quality health care. It’s time to put in motion a plan for Medicare for Life. For all Americans. Once and for all.”
National Nurses United—with more than 150,000 members—is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in America. Founded in December 2009, its purpose is to give registered nurses a national voice and organizing power.