Most public health professionals would agree that our health system is broken. As a nation, we spend more but don’t get better results. Forty-two million Americans don’t have health insurance.
And contrary to Governor Romney’s proclamation that “people don’t die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance,” I know at least one man in St. Louis who died for just that reason. He couldn’t keep up with his doctor’s appointments to manage his diabetes after losing his insurance, and his daughter found him dead in his apartment.
And he isn’t the only one. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 26,000 Americans die each year due to lack of health insurance. In Missouri 10 people die every week because they don’t have health insurance. So why then can’t we all agree that something needs to be done? A 1990s Jay-Z rap song answers this question: “Politics as Usual.”
Another Jay – Governor Jay Nixon – has offered a solution by proposing that Missouri expand Medicaid coverage. Seems logical. If people are dying because they don’t have insurance and the federal government will give Missouri money to expand Medicaid insurance coverage, then why not accept it? Providing more coverage is fiscally responsible and downright just humanly decent.
Missouri would pay nothing for three years. After three years, it would cost Missouri a little over one percent more than they are paying now to sustain the expansion. Yet it is estimated between 220,000 to 300,000 Missourians would now have health insurance.
The more people with health insurance, the more people go see a doctor. Insurance coverage is a boost in business for doctors and other health professionals. The University of Missouri estimates that expanding Medicaid will create 24,000 jobs in Missouri.
The more people go see their doctor, the better they are able to prevent illness and the less likely they are to show up at the emergency room without insurance. Also, the more healthy people are the more productive they are at work and the more they can contribute to society.
These basic connections between health insurance and better health are largely missing from the conversation about health reform. No matter how you feel about Obamacare, the president or your party affiliation, it is hard to deny that expanding insurance coverage to more Missourians is good for Missouri’s budget and good for Missourians. Jay-Z got it right when he said “politics as usual” is leading the debate, and no matter how you feel about Jay Nixon, he got it right when he said expand Medicaid.
Fields is a student St. Louis University School of Law and School of Public Health, University of Missouri-Columbia.