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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

December, 2007



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Health Insurance Crisis Hits Veterans: 1.8 Million Are Uninsured And At Risk
By Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell

ATLANTA-The health crisis in America, which has left 47 million people without health insurance, is devastating veterans and their families. What does it say about America when the men and women who have risked their lives for our nation can't get access to quality health care at home?
It means there is a crisis that must be addressed.

Our nation spends more than $2 trillion a year on health care and has the best medical researchers and most advanced technology in the world, but we haven't figured out how to provide health insurance for our citizens. This is nothing less than a monumental failure on the part of our society with everyone from state and federal leaders to the medical community at fault.

A study by Harvard Medical School recently documented the plight suffered by veterans and their families because of the health insurance debacle. Of the 47 million people without health insurance, one out of every eight, or 12.2 percent, is a veteran or member of a veteran household. Specifically, the study said 1.8 million veterans and 3.8 million household members are uninsured. And the number of uninsured veterans increased by 290,000 since 2000.

Moreover, the health data on veterans reflects the situation faced by many working families across the country: family income is too high for Medicaid, or in the case of veterans, means-tested care from the Veterans Administration. Yet families can't afford the skyrocketing cost of health insurance. Means testing for veterans benefits results in some veterans earning as low as $24,000 a year not qualifying.

It's unconscionable to think that we ship men and women off to fight wars, and then desert them and their families when they return home. If our nation goes to war, we absolutely must care for the people who fight those wars. Not only do we leave our gallant veterans with poor health-care options, but one out of every four of the homeless in America is a veteran, and countless others run afoul of the law and find themselves in our nations prisons and jails.

Going without health insurance is a huge risk for veterans, who often suffer from both physical and psychological conditions related to their time in the armed services. With a high percentage of minorities serving in the military, it also adds to the health problems in minority communities, where a disproportionate number of residents are already without access to quality health-care services.

Recently, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation issued a report showing that health insurance premiums have nearly doubled in just the past seven years. Put another way, the average annual premium for family health insurance coverage increased from $6,300 in 2000 to more than $12,100 today. Those premium costs are a daunting challenge to families earning the minimum wage, about $12,250 - before taxes.

Thus, we have 42 million people, including 1.8 million veterans, who every day are at risk; if they become seriously ill, their way of life is in jeopardy.

Great nations are judged by the quality of life of their least resourceful citizens. When veterans, and other working-class and poor Americans, spend each day concerned about how to pay for a doctor's visit, our society has failed them.

Our leaders have done enough talking about universal health insurance. When research, such as the recent Harvard study, shows that even our veterans are at risk because of our failing healthcare system, it is time for action.

We need a national health plan that covers our children, veterans and everyone else who currently is not insured. Whatever the cost is in dollars, it will be more than worth the end result: restoring some national pride and reinforcing that America is a democracy that does care about the well-being of its people. But first we must prove it.

Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell, associate director of Development at the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine, is also director of Community Voices, a non-profit working to improve health services, and health-care access, for all Americans. For more information, please contact [email protected]



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