July 3, 2012 -- A few years ago, we had two French foreign exchange students living with us for nine months. One of the things that impressed me about these young men – besides the great packages of Camembert we received at Christmas – was their inability to understand why health care was such an issue in America and why so many people could not afford insurance or put off needed treatments.
While they criticized some aspects of universal health care in France, they both did not worry about getting treatment if they needed it. Health care was available and affordable. It was just not an issue for them. It was refreshing to hear.
Also a few years ago, I had the opportunity to provide health care for workers at a startup business in Detroit I was involved in. Affordable coverage was obtained for employees through a subsidized program for low-income workers. We were proud to offer it. The insurer paid up to a third, our business paid a third or more and the workers paid somewhere between a quarter and a third of the coverage.
But here’s the problem. Even at the low rates offered by the program, our business and many others in the same revenue scale struggled to cover the costs. Most small businesses operate on tight and getting tighter margins. It is difficult to offer benefits to workers, even with all the positive effects it contributes to company culture. You want workers to not worry about health costs. One reason is because they feel better about their workplace and contribute more to a business. That positive feeling rubs off on customers and the end result is more spirit, more innovation, more sales and a stronger business.
I also know what it is like not to be able to afford any health insurance coverage. It’s frightening, to say the least, when you know you should take care of an issue, but just can’t. You wonder how long over-the-counter drugs will dull the pain and if you will ever get better. It is a slippery slope that just gets more dangerous the longer you continue without addressing health needs. People are hurting in this country. They can’t find jobs, but have to find a way to put food on the table and keep the rain and cold out. Health care is unattainable for many, I am sorry to say.
But these are not issues of politics, although that is hard to believe with all the posturing, claims and rhetoric flying about. Health care is a critical, basic need, whether a person is affiliated with a party or not. We must rise above and move beyond the divisive, political yammering about providing affordable health care. That is even more the case now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Health Care Act. It must be accessible, affordable and provide coverage for all Americans and be affordable for businesses to provide it. This should be a win-win situation. If it’s not, then fix it.
It would be a relief to be more like those French students and have the comfort that if something related to your health is wrong, it will be fixed and you don’t have to worry about the cost. That’s a trait of a good business culture and it should be part of our national culture. Let’s move forward, improve the Health Care Act as we go and free Americans of this burden.
And please, pass the Camembert.