Gary Horton | It’s 2019. Open Your Health Care Wallet

Congrats all us geezers on making it to yet another year which seemed so very far away when we were young. 2019? Are you kidding me? During the Cuban Missile Crisis, it didn’t seem like we’d make it as far as the Beatles’ invasion of America. And then there was that much-anticipated millennium, year 2000, when airplanes were supposed to fall out of the sky and every computer was set to gag into the Blue Screen of Death…

But we made it through all of it… remarkably even through Trump — all the way to 2019 — and very soon, on to the catchy-sounding, “2020.”

Just what are they going to call the generation from that era? The “Two-O’s?” Or “Twenty-somethings?”

I like “Twenty-somethings.” Catchy. Pithy. And, when 2045 finally rolls around, this generation will be able to call themselves “twenty-something” and really mean it.

Beyond failed New Year’s resolutions, most Americans share at least one other thing in common at the turn of each year. Their medical insurance renews. Gone are last year’s paid-up deductibles, with all that very socialistic fun feeling of paying nothing for a doctor’s office visit or prescription. You know that thing that puts a smile on your face. Having the pharmacist hand you that little white bag and hearing, “No charge.” Sure, you had to get sick and sure you had to handle all those co-pays and deductibles. But once your sickly sack of bones made it past all that pain, you could saunter on up to the CVS with that smirky smile knowing you could just wave your med-card and pretend, if for only a moment, you were Canadian or Finnish.

Yeah, getting “free stuff” as our Republican friends like to call it.

But now at the New Year those “free stuff” days are gone again. The deductible clock has just been reset for the greater part of working America. Back to scratch. Get on the pay-through-your-nose train, all over again. Back to co-pays, and back to working-in-a-coal-mine stress and strain of meeting your deductibles for yourself and oh-God-help-you, your family too, if you’re so blessed to get to pay for one.

Here’s a fact that’s hard to face: The average American employer-based family medical insurance policy costs about $17,000 per year. Some states are a couple of grand lower, some a couple higher. California, despite being more expensive in most every other way, is right dab in the middle. So, California-haters, you can run to Texas thinking it’s so much cheaper but the insurance costs the same and the state ranks dismally compared to California on health outcomes.

In the Greatest Nation on Earth we have the highest insurance costs on Earth – and that’s no fake news. And typically, our medical results are middling. It’s no fake news that we’re on the lower side of average compared against typical European countries, and astonishingly, even behind Cuba in many factors.

So, what’s driving this when we know that when we check in over at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital we get some of the best care on the planet. We know when we head down to USC or UCLA we’re in incredible hands. And our family doctor just down the street is a great guy or great gal and we’re paying so darn much but it all seems to work. So why the so-so results after all that money and effort?

Accessibility to health care. Obesity. Poverty. Crime. Drugs. It kind of comes down to the inequality that still exists in America, if not so visibly here in the SCV. Obamacare greatly improved access, taking our uninsured down from a staggering 19 percent to something more like 10 percent — but that’s still tens of millions who can’t get in for a regular checkup because they don’t have the dough. Our great science and technology deliver amazing results – but only if you can afford it. And many struggle to afford it.

At $17,000 per year, we quickly see that medical care is by far the largest budget item after housing for most Americans. If you sneer at poor folks who can’t afford 35 percent of their income going to the Medical Industrial Complex – well, you may want to take a New Year’s resolution look in the mirror, because unless America finally fixes its addiction to out-of-control, for-profit medical, you may one day end up that poor guy who couldn’t quite swing the bills. Especially if one day our Republican friends actually do cancel out what remains of Obamacare and the protections against preexisting conditions.

As sick as it sounds, in America today, your illness is some company’s profit center. And, in loosely regulated drug markets, the price for that pill you need might well be the price that the market will bear.

So, happy New Year. Better put aside 5 percent of everything you take home to start covering those New Year co-pays. For the next few months, except for “free stuff” Obamacare preventative care, each time you see your doctor or pharmacist you’ll be digging deep into your wallet. God willing, you’ll enjoy good health and never get past your co-pays. But once you do, you’ll get that wonderful Canadian feeling again, if only for a few short months.

What’s the 2019 New Year take-away? With a new Congress we’ve got to get serious about slaying this overpriced monster we call American health care. We’ve got to get our national money’s worth because our nation’s health depends on it. Just as you can’t afford higher health costs, neither can our nation.

In the meantime, hey, let’s lose weight, stop smoking and reduce drinking. That much will help, most certainly.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared on Wednesdays in The Signal since 2006.

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