Health Insurance

Making sure your health is covered

Health insurance is an extremely contentious topic - some say the American system of health care is effective and does its best to meet the needs of the sick. Others feel it is extremely wasteful and leaves the poorest of people with no medical care. Who's right? That's an impossible question to answer. However, we can discuss some of the more important aspects of our medical care system, to get a better picture.

In America, private medical care rules the day. What exactly is that, you ask? Most Americans receive health insurance coverage through their employer or they pay for it themselves out of pocket. The principle behind health care is that people should be able to decide for themselves how much they want to pay for their health care, just as they would decide how much to pay for their car or home. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only Mexico and the United States do not provide some sort of universal health care coverage for all its people.

The number of uninsured Americans currently sits at 46.6 million, or 16 percent of the total population. Approximately 70 percent have either employee-sponsored health insurance or they pay for it themselves. The remaining 14 percent either receive health care through Medicaid or Medicare. Medicaid is for those who are poor, both young and old, and the disabled. This is a program made available through a partnership between the federal and state governments. Medicare, on the other hand, is for those over 65, some who are under 65 and disabled, and those with permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis. The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services in Baltimore administers both programs.

For the majority of people who have health care insurance, either a private for-profit company provides the insurance coverage, or in some cases, non-profits like Blue Cross / Blue Shield will. In addition, there are large companies that self-insure, which means they pay all medical costs directly, with a third party administering the plan itself. In 2005, the average premium for a single person was $4,024 and for a family of four, $10,880. For those who pay for their insurance on an individual basis, their premium is solely a factor of their physical health. In short, if you aren't able to obtain health insurance from your employer, you'd better be in good shape or it will cost you.

Up until 1965, the United States and Canada had almost identical health care systems, with private insurance as the coverage method. In 1966, Canada introduced a national Medicare program, moving to single payer, universal health care coverage. At the time, the two countries spent an identical amount on health care per capita. Today, the U.S. spends 75 percent more than Canada. Statistics also show that Canadians live, on average, three years more than Americans do.

Does this make the current health care system in America a dinosaur? Well, that's still debatable.

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