Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Middle-Class America Feels Weight of Health Care Crisis

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Middle-Class America Feels Weight of Health Care Crisis

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON _ It was near the end of a long day listening to heartfelt concerns about the nation's health care system, and Hillary Rodham Clinton's optimism was severely muted.

"I don't know that it is possible to satisfy every need that was heard today," said the first lady, designer-in-chief of the administration's plan for health reform.

"The best we can do is to be honest about facing the problems that everyone of us in this room have had a hand in helping to create."

Health care in America has been in a crisis for years, experts say, with costs soaring at horrifying rates and more and more people falling into the class of the un- or under-insured.

What's different now is that middle-class America _ people who've long taken employer-paid policies for granted and hardly think twice about going to the doctor _ suddenly feel at risk.

"People are scared that their insurance is disintegrating," said Robert Blendon, a health policy expert at Harvard University.

One in two workers has seen his benefits cut in the past year, as companies struggling to control costs force their employees either to pay a bigger share of premiums or go into cheaper, "managed care" systems that restrict choices of doctors and hospitals.

Plus, it seems everyone knows someone without insurance. Some 100,000 people a month lose their insurance. In all, 37 million Americans will go without insurance for part of this year, and an additional 20 million have inadequate insurance, according to studies.

That day in Tampa, Fla., Clinton heard from a man who had gone into debt to pay for care for a mother with Alzheimer's disease. She also listened to a cancer doctor who cautioned that health maintenance organizations pressure him to treat patients in a "substandard way," an advocate for the disabled who asked for coverage for home health care, the owner of a small business who talked of the burdens a new tax would cause, and a social worker who described how the elderly must choose between paying for food and buying prescription drugs.

And more.

Clinton, chairing the president's task force, is fond of saying that people don't go without health care _ they just get it when it's the most expensive. For instance, someone without coverage who gets in a car wreck won't get turned away at the emergency room. But big charges on other patients' bills _ super-expensive Tylenol for example _ make up for it.

The pool of 37 million uninsured is hardly a static group. One in four people will lose their insurance over a two-year period, either through changing jobs or going to part-time work. Insurance isn't transferrable if you change jobs.

Clinton, during last year's presidential campaign, often talked of a woman he'd met who gave up her job and applied for Medicaid, which provides federal assistance for the poor, to make sure a daughter with cerebral palsy could maintain health coverage. …

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