Price-Gouging the Uninsured

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It is well known that the U.S. lacks a universal health care system.  The for-profit health system is yet another example of capitalism’s inability to play a progressive role for the majority of society.  Despite being the wealthiest nation on the planet, millions are effectively barred access to any kind of health care due to a lack of insurance. Those who are insured have to pay exorbitant amounts in the form of premiums and co-pays. But what happens if you don’t have insurance, but are sick or injured and have to go to the hospital anyway?

A study published in the May-June issue of Health Affairs found that rates were far higher for the uninsured. In the year 2004, hospitals charged those who paid for care out of their own pockets an average of 2.5 times more for services than they charged health insurers. And for every $100 in Medicare-allowable costs, the average hospital charge for the uninsured was $307 – over three times as much.   

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), of the nearly 46 million uninsured Americans, more than 8.3 million of them are children.  More than 8 of 10 uninsured people in the U.S. of them are from working class families that can’t afford health insurance.  Most of these families are also not eligible for public programs.

The ACEP figures put the composition of the uninsured as follows:

  •  62.1 percent live in households with a full-time worker and 21.3 percent with a part-time worker
  •  21.2 percent of African-Americans
  •  34.3 percent of Hispanics

A survey of emergency physicians released in March 2003 by ACEP also noted that most uninsured patients arrive at hospital emergency rooms in terrible shape, as they have delayed needed care. These patients are also more likely to die prematurely than those with insurance.

By contrast, in far poorer countries like Cuba and Venezuela, health care is totally free. Despite over 40 years of economic embargo by the U.S., Cuba is able to guarantee health care for all, and boasts statistics in life expectancy, infant mortality rate, etc. on par with the wealthiest nations on the planet.  U.S. workers deserve the same level of health care – but the for-profit system is not capable of fulfilling even this most basic need.

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