Carter: What would we do without health insurance?

Driving home from the office a few weeks ago, my sunglasses on as the sweltering summer heat fought mightily with my air conditioning running at full blast, I felt it. Somehow, something had sneaked past my glasses and into my right eye.

Reflexively, I closed it and began blinking and rubbing my eye. Eventually, the annoyance subsided and I continued my way home. How was I to know then that what had just happened would end up costing me hundreds of dollars in medical care over the next 14 days? And my vision still isn’t quite 100 percent.

I share this personal tale because the entire situation has put health care squarely on my mind, as if it wasn’t already with everything that has been going on in Washington, D.C.

Whatever it was that got into my eye on my drive home – likely kicked up by the air conditioner – scratched my cornea, the clear protective outer layer of the eye. As a result, I’ve been to an urgent care center, more than a week’s worth of visits to the optometrist and, thus far, one visit to an ophthalmologist specializing in cornea care. Not to mention about a half-dozen visits to CVS to get prescriptions filled or to pick up some over-the-counter eye drops.

Needless to say, this whole experience has been an unanticipated drain on my bank account. And that’s with a pretty good insurance plan through my wife’s employer.

Which has me wondering: If the Affordable Care Act were to be repealed, what would someone who doesn’t have a good insurance plan or any insurance plan do in a situation like mine?

Now, it should be noted there are nonprofits like Access Carroll and Mission of Mercy, to name a few, that work to fill in the gaps and provide access to health care to uninsured and low-income individuals who cannot afford insurance, and of course, Medicaid.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with parents who had health insurance and good-paying jobs, and were able to put some money aside to help pay for college so I could get an education and have similar circumstances once I graduated. I’ve never known what its like to be without health insurance. And I suspect a number of people reading this – though certainly not all – have been covered through their employer most of their life.

Lots of people aren’t so fortunate. They might not have had opportunities others do to get an education, or have the support system around them, and had to work multiple low-paying jobs to make ends meet. Jobs that might not offer health insurance. Insurance that, without the ACA, might be out of reach cost-wise or didn’t provide useful coverage for what they could afford.

But even people with an education or support system might have jobs that don’t offer health insurance. Entrepreneurs, like many of the small business owners in Carroll, are largely on their own. Before and even after the ACA passed, some might choose to buy their own health insurance, if they can afford it. Others – particularly those who are young and relatively healthy – might opt to roll the dice and not get insurance so they can put what money they do have into growing business.

So what happens when they have a medical emergency?

At the end of the day, my scratched cornea is minor, but it still could’ve had lasting affect. Had I not sought treatment, it’s possible it could’ve gotten infected and, in the worst-case scenario, I may have lost some or all of my vision in that eye. And that’s a decision someone without or who cannot afford health insurance may have to make.

What if they had something more serious, even terminal, like cancer? I cannot wrap my head around the worldview of someone who says, “tough luck, pal,” when another human being, through no fault of their own, needs medical attention but cannot afford it. So the choices are continue suffering, possibly die, or go into financial ruin?

Have we forgotten what health insurance was like prior to the ACA? Costs were high, coverage was lousy; worse than it is now. And companies could deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, significantly limit coverage, rescind policies when people actually got sick and needed them and deny paying for services.

The ACA isn’t perfect, and it definitely needs fixes, yet everything coming out of Washington would make health care worse than it is now. The Senate bill that went nowhere would’ve increased premiums and covered less for many middle-class folks.

Flat-out repeal, as has more recently been floated, with plans to replace later would either lead to emergency legislation to continue Obamacare beyond the deadline while a dysfunctional Congress struggles to come up with a replacement, or unappetizing legislation similar to what we’ve seen over the past few months. The Congressional Budget Office says repeal would leave even more, 32 million, without insurance. Meanwhile the fear of the unknown would send the markets into disarray with premiums skyrocketing.

Moderate Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have spoken about being open to fixes for Obamacare that could address some of its flaws, such as rising premiums and insurers leaving state exchanges. But so far, it’s just lip service.

It’s long past time Congress starts working together on healthcare. What more is it going to take?

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.

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