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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

One for the Road

Businessweek, via MSN Money has an article, “What’s most likely to bankrupt you” that ought to be required reading for every Democrat. And, as President Obama takes the campaign for health care reform on the road, it wouldn’t hurt to include this graph from the article as selling point #1 for those who think their health insurance is adequate and reform may not be so necessary:

Medical problems caused 62% of all personal bankruptcies filed in the U.S. in 2007, according to a study by Harvard researchers. And in a finding that surprised even the researchers, 78% of those filers had medical insurance at the start of their illnesses, including 60.3% who had private coverage, not Medicare or Medicaid.

If anyone can find a better short paragraph that explains why we need a public option, please share. Wondering if health security has been getting better or worse? Here’s the next graph:

Medically related bankruptcies have been rising steadily for decades. In 1981, only 8% of families filing for bankruptcy cited a serious medical problem as the reason, while a 2001 study of bankruptcies in five states by the same researchers found that illness or medical bills contributed to 50% of all filings.

The article goes on to add that the bankruptsy filers were “for the most part solidly middle class before medical disaster hit. Two-thirds owned their homes, and three-fifths had gone to college.”
In other words, those poll respondents we’ve been reading aboout who feel secure about their health insurance may be marinating in self-delusion. As the authors of the cited study, which is being published in the American Journal of Medicine, Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard Medical School, Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School and Deborah Thorne, a sociology professor at Ohio University, conclude:

“For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse,” said lead author Himmelstein. “Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.”

Woolhandler adds,

Covering the uninsured isn’t enough,” she said. “Reform also needs to help families who already have insurance by upgrading their coverage and assuring that they never lose it.”

As President Obama takes his case on the road, this is the kind of information that can help him persuade middle-class, insured Americans why they need health care reform. It’s important that all Democrats — office holders, rank and file and others use it as well. The uninsured know why we need health care reform. It’s time to educate the insured as well, and that’s a worthy challenge for all progressive journalists at this critical moment.

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