David, a Billings resident, decided to forgo a doctor’s appointment – even though he was feeling ill – because he had lost his health insurance when he retired. As the illness worsened, he finally scheduled an appointment, only to find that he was suffering from Stage III bladder cancer. In the costly fight against the cancer, David lost both his right kidney and his retirement. David has had to return to work to pay off his medical bills, but he is still unable to get insurance because of his pre-existing condition.
What happened to David is one example of how Montanans are suffering as a result of our broken health care system. It is the kind of nightmare scenario feared by millions of families across America who struggle each day to pay rising health care premiums, lose coverage when they switch jobs, or simply can’t afford basic health care.
A recent national health care survey by the AFL-CIO found that David is far from alone. David was one of a whopping 23,460 people who completed the survey and told of how shortcomings in our nation’s health care system are affecting their day-to-day lives. More than 6,000 people took the time to tell their personal and often tragic health care stories. They were insured and uninsured, young and old, healthy and sick. Some have unions and many don’t. They were people from all across the country, from a diversity of backgrounds.
Their diverse voices all said the same thing. The system isn’t working.
Over half of respondents reported that they cannot get the health care they need at a price they can afford. They said that skyrocketing health care costs are crushing their already-struggling families. Almost 80 percent of respondents said that their overall health care costs increased in the past year, and 67 percent of respondents said they spent more than $1,000 in out of pocket health care expenses.
The personal stories submitted, like David’s, told of the real-life effects of rising costs and insufficient health care coverage. The parent of a sick child with a chronic illness who has to decide between putting food on the table or filling his prescription. Amber said she often skips going to the doctor for preventive care because she can’t afford the co-pay. Valerie was forced to quit her job in order to qualify for benefits for her autistic son. Jax had to file bankruptcy after an unexpected car accident left him in debt and out of work.
The responses of those with insurance told just how fundamentally broken our health care system is. The survey found that health insurance is no guarantee of obtaining affordable health care: fully 43 percent of people with insurance said they are not able to get the care they need at a price they can afford.
Over and over again in the survey results, we heard people demanding change. Two-thirds of respondents are dissatisfied with their health care coverage. Almost everyone said that health care reform is urgent. Nearly all said that government should have stricter standards for private health insurance companies that continue to profit by denying care to sick patients. And people overwhelmingly said they wanted the option of choosing between a public and private health insurance plan.
Just a few weeks ago, thousands came to Washington to demand health care reform that will help the insured and uninsured alike. They are part of the masses who are waiting on our leadership to pass real health care reform which will provide quality affordable care for everyone. They have done their part – now it’s time for our leaders to do theirs and finally create a health care system that works for all.
Jim McGarvey is the Executive Secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO. John Sweeney is the President of the National AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is the country’s largest labor federation, representing 11 million members.
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