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Why We Need Health Care Reform

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We’re having the wrong conversation about national health care reform.

Much of the debate has centered on how reform would affect those of us with health insurance. (Will we keep our plans and our doctors? How much will it cost?) Don’t get me started on the town-hall outbursts and the euthanasia talk. 

Quite a few Republicans have said they would prefer to maintain the status quo than pass the current Democratic reform plan.

We’re not talking enough about those who need health care reform — the nearly 50 million Americans who lack health insurance.

They include the uninsured 24-year-old in McAllen who struggles to find cancer treatment.

And the dozens of uninsured waiting 15 hours for care in a San Antonio emergency room last week. (And the many in Houston suffering the same fate.) 

Then there are the millions more who are under-insured.

In March, Karen Tumulty wrote this must-read story. Tumulty, a veteran reporter for TIME, has covered health care policy for more than a decade. Her older brother Patrick, who lives in San Antonio, began to suffer from kidney failure. He had a flimsy, catastrophic-care policy, and his insurance company refused to pay for care. Before long, Patrick was very sick and broke.

Tumulty writes:

Confident of my abilities to sort this out or at least find the right person to fix the problem, I made some calls to the company. I got nowhere. That’s when I realized that the national crisis I’d written so much about had just hit home.

Later she notes that many other Americans experience what her brother went through:

They are the underinsured, who may be all the more vulnerable because, until a health catastrophe hits, they’re often blind to the danger they’re in. In a 2005 Harvard University study of more than 1,700 bankruptcies across the country, researchers found that medical problems were behind half of them — and three-quarters of those bankrupt people actually had health insurance. As Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor who helped conduct the study, wrote in the Washington Post, ‘Nobody’s safe … A comfortable middle-class lifestyle? Good education? Decent job? No safeguards there. Most of the medically bankrupt were middle-class homeowners who had been to college and had responsible jobs — until illness struck.’

There are many more stories. Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic has been compiling tales from the health care crisis. You can read them here.

A lot of people in this country receive good health care. But too many Americans do not. We can’t lose sight of that.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.