The health care system in this country is out of control. It is time to discuss the issues and pressure elected officials to enact health policy reform. Since this week is Cover the Uninsured Week, now is the time to learn and take action.
The numbers of uninsured people have been largely publicized -- more than 45 million in the United States and more than 2.5 million in New York -- but large numbers do not often hold much meaning in our everyday lives.
These numbers mean that children go months without medicine while their families have no insurance. They mean that doctors cannot always practice the best medicine they know, and watch as patients forgo needed surgeries due to lack of coverage.
They mean that the woman in her 20s who finds out after a visit to the ER that she has cancer goes without treatment because insurance plans may exclude "pre-existing conditions." These numbers are not simply more statistics; individual lives are affected daily because this country has defined health care as an individual commodity (such as a television) rather than as a public good (such as education).
Despite this, the situation is hopeful. People all over the country are taking action in support of expanded health care. Last April, Massachusetts passed health care reform aimed at covering all residents through a combination of expanded public programs, employer coverage and individually purchased plans. Maine passed the Dirigo Health Care Reform Act in 2003 and plans to cover all people by 2009. Vermont followed suit in May 2006 with its plan.
In California, conversations continue on whether a statewide insurance program or a system of expanded coverage should be pursued; a 1999 state legislature commission identified a single-payer approach (which is centralized health care financing through a single insurance or through the government) as the most cost-effective solution.
New York has not been left out. Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's efforts to expand coverage to most children were included in the recently passed budget, as was a $200,000 appropriation (similar to the 1999 California commission) to study the ways in which to implement high-quality, affordable health care for all in New York. These are much-needed steps and should be applauded, but ultimately a more comprehensive solution to this health care crisis is needed.
It is increasingly apparent that we need to increase access, control costs and overall improve the quality of health. Although it would be logistically difficult, I believe it best to move toward a national health insurance program for such reasons as increased patient choice, increased physician autonomy and simple reimbursement.
We live in the world's richest country; we have the money to cover everyone with a cost-effective approach; we have an increasing political will to enact reform; and it is the right thing to do.
Allana Krolikowski is a first-year medical student at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.