Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 14, 2009
Our View - Keep debate focused, civil and informative
"But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance, too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day." -- President Obama, Sept. 9.
About the same time that the advance copies of President Obama's health care speech came out last week, new census figures were released showing that Iowa's health-insurance shortage grew worse over the course of the past decade. The new data shows that 9.4 percent of Iowans went without coverage in 2007-08.
Analysts from the Iowa Policy Project and the Child & Family Policy Center said the census numbers show 9.4 percent, or 279,000 Iowans, were without health coverage in either 2007 or 2008, on average, compared with 7.9 percent in 2000-01. Although the national average showed an increase of 10 percent when the two-year periods were compared, the uninsurance rate in Iowa grew by 19 percent.
"We will continue to hear much about the problem of uninsurance for 46 million Americans, as we should," Mike Crawford, a senior associate at Child & Family Policy Center and director of its Iowa Kids Count project, said in a statement. "But these Iowa trends are persistent. It's easy to miss the fact that while Iowa's health insurance problem is not as great as the national problem, Iowa's growth in the uninsurance rate has doubled the nation's since 2000-01."
The census data, of course, doesn't show how many Iowans were in the situations the president described in his health care speech Wednesday:
• Stuck in jobs they hate because they are worried about losing benefits.
• Up at night worrying about their coverage should their name be included in the next round of layoffs.
• Discovering that despite all their premiums paid, their insurance companies won't pay for the medical procedures their physicians say they need.
Nor does the data tell the stories of the American families who have had to declare bankruptcy because of medical costs -- despite having been insured.
These are the stories that need to be told. And we're glad the president has been helping to pull the health care debate from the rhetorical swamps into which it had sunk in recent weeks. The controversail public option being debated in Congress, for example, isn't being offered as an extreme position -- but a compromise between the extremes.
As the president said, "There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada's. ... On the right, there are those who argue that we should end the employer-based system and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own."
We continue to view a public option as a necessary step toward covering the uninsured, providing security for Iowans worried about losing their insurance and drastically slowing the growth of health care costs. And we're glad the president is keeping it on the table.