EDITORIAL: Real reform to health care

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By The Staff

The U.S. Census reported last week that one in four New Mexicans lacks health insurance — the second highest rate in the nation. Only Texas has a higher rate of uninsured.

Disconcerting news, yes, but not devastating  because, well, health insurance just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Here are a couple of loaded questions: What’s the biggest reason for personal bankruptcies in the United States? Yes, it’s medical bills. And what do three-fourths of those who file for bankruptcy have? Believe it or not, it’s health insurance.

More than anything else, health care is big business in the United States. There is big money to be made in taking care of the sick, injured and aging in our nation — and insuring people when they’re not sick, injured or old. And this business often works to the detriment of the consumers, who remain at the mercy of the system. When considered strictly from a financial point of view, it’s the middle class that suffers the most in the U.S. health-care system.

Why? Because middle-class citizens can mostly pay their way. They usually have health insurance, which covers their doctor visits and most illnesses up to a point, and what’s left over they can usually cover out of pocket. But with one catastrophic illness or injury, it becomes a whole new ballgame.

David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University who conducted a study of medical bankruptcies, put it this way: “Unless you’re Bill Gates you’re just one serious illness away from bankruptcy. Most of the medically bankrupt were average Americans who happened to get sick.”

His study found that most of the people who file  medical bankruptcies are middle class — 56 percent of them owned a home and attended college. Many were forced to take time off from work because of an illness and, as a result, lost income and their health insurance — right when they needed it the most.

That study was in 2005. Undoubtedly, it’s worse now.

So here we are, in the midst of a great national debate over health care, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The special interests who profit so well from the system we have, as well as a number of conservative hacks that place ideology and power above what’s best for the nation, now are working diligently to defeat President Obama’s proposed reforms and, when the truth doesn’t work, misinformation is spread. Sure, there are some legitimate concerns about Obama’s plan, on both the left and right of the political spectrum, but the fringe elements, especially on the right, seem to have gained some traction with their hyperbolic expressions that ObamaCare will turn us into a socialist nation. It would be silly, even laughable, if it wasn’t for the fact that many people are actually listening to such nonsense.

There are those who think Obama is taking on too much, but these are desperate times that require dramatic changes. And it will be hard to fix our economy with any long-term solutions without fixing our broken health-care system.

But beyond the economic issues, the United States needs to recognize that a moral also exists here: that, as rich as we are as a nation, everyone should have access to good and affordable health care. We should indeed declare it a right, not a privilege, and move forward with the reforms needed to make that a reality.