February 15, 2007
Barbara Ehrenreich on the Underinsured
Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of "Nickel and Dimed" an investigation on the impact of welfare reform on the working poor, writes about the plight of the underinusured for the Huffington Post today. She discusses a letter that her son wrote to the CEO of the Daughers of Charity Health System concerning the charges for a recent hospital stay. In her column, she states,
I don't usually share the family mail, but this letter from my son Ben to the CEO of the curiously named "Daughters of Charity Health System" illustrates two important issues: (1) how inadequately covered many insured people are, and (2) how the medical system shamelessly gouges us. Yes, we need universal health insurance, and United Professionals, the new organization I helped create, energetically advocates for it. But universal health insurance won't work, at least not for long, if the medical system treats it as an open vein gushing with profits.
The odd thing is that many politicians and pundits believe that the only way to control health costs is to get consumers to limit their consumption of health care - as if an appendectomy, for example, was a kind of self-indulgence. In my son's case, we have someone who is vividly aware of his health care costs, if only because he bears so much of them. His letter is not only an individual complaint but an act of good citizenship. We all need to be prepared to blow the whistle on medical larceny.
But where are the regulatory agencies that should or could be watching for this kind of thing? How can we build price controls into universal health insurance in a way that does not limit necessary health care, or fall unfairly on the poor? Obama, Hillary, John and the rest of you: Do you have some answers for us?
The letter details the charges that her son incurred as a result of his hospital stay. I must admit they seem quite high and the fact that medical professionals in the area have noted the hospital charges as excessive is rather troubling.