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Jeffery Kurz

Health care or a prayer?

Seven years ago I was having a conversation with a middle-age woman when she told me she prayed every day that she wouldn’t get sick. She prayed that she wouldn’t get sick because she had no health insurance.

Her husband had lost his job after nearly 30 years, and though he had disability coverage for a back injury his overall health insurance was extremely expensive, and they couldn’t afford doubling that already high expense to cover her as well. She needed a knee replacement, but couldn’t afford it. She had to quit her physical therapy. If she wound up in the hospital, she told me, they would lose their house.

This was the summer when Michael Moore’s indictment of America’s health-care system, the film “Sicko,” was appearing across the country, and I had many conversations at the time with people in circumstances similar to those of the woman who prayed every day.

The United States is a great country, but how can it allow its citizens to suffer such dire circumstances? It has never made sense that universal coverage should be dismissed as socialism. Schools are run with public money, as are libraries, fire and police departments. Government is run with public money. Why draw the line at health care coverage? Even if that was not going to work out, it was long obvious that at least some form of health-care reform was desperately needed.

In the years since the nation has made its way toward that end, with coverage under the Affordable Care Act set to start in a significant way Oct. 1. It does not arrive without controversy. Some Republicans, looking to thwart any initiative by a Democratic president even when it was going to help the country, reacted to so-called “Obamacare” like a kid in a playground who holds his breath until he’s blue in the face or shouts “la la la, I can’t hear you!”

“Obamacare” is confusing to many Americans, including, quite frankly, yours truly, but it’s important to remember that any change so significant is not going to come easy. A story just out by the Associated Press says many senior citizens are confused about the effect on Medicare benefits. About 50 million Medicare beneficiaries are to get a handbook in the mail next month which will stress that Medicare isn’t changing.

Reform in states led by recalcitrant Republicans is also going to make it harder for residents to pick private plans.

“We are going to have an environment where consumers may be victims of geography,” an expert told the AP. That’s dispiriting, but here’s some good news from that same article: “Nonetheless, the number of uninsured people is expected to drop markedly, bringing the United States closer to other economically advanced countries that guarantee coverage.”

The number of the uninsured could be reduced by one-fourth or more next year, a good step if there ever was one.

It’s at least encouraging news for people like the woman I talked to seven years ago, and my hope is she’ll now be able to direct her prayers toward other concerns.



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