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Why mandating health insurance coverage is important

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Leading health care providers say much about mandating insurance coverage through the Affordable Health Care Act has been overlooked. Instead, the focus has been on the legality of requiring most individuals to purchase health insurance.

Widespread health care coverage will be valuable for health care consumers and physicians. Johns Hopkins leaders say there are several reasons why most people should have health insurance coverage that should be a focus.

According to authors Edward D. Miller, M.D., dean/CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Scott A. Berkowitz, assistant professor of medicine and medical director for Accountable Care for Johns Hopkins, commenting in the Journal of the American Medical Association, lack of affordable health insurance is a significant contributor to rising costs of health care.

Patients seeking treatment, do so with no intention of paying. When that happens, premiums go up and physicians don’t get paid.

Since everyone will require some form of health care during their lifetime, the authors point out the notion of “free-riding” is unacceptable. Choosing not to purchase affordable health care insurance is something they say is “unacceptable” and shouldn’t be sanctioned. For those who cannot afford health insurance, society has an obligation to find a solution.

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Miller says, “According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, in 2008 alone, an estimated $73 billion in uncompensated health care was provided in the United States, resulting in as much as a $1,000 increase in annual family health insurance premiums. The individual mandate should greatly reduce the level of uncompensated care and the resulting need to pass these costs on to those with insurance.”

Mandating health care coverage will also protect individuals and families from financial loss and lower the cost of routine health care.

“It should be clear to objective observers that the manner in which our nation has historically dealt with health care insurance coverage is unfair, inequitable and unsustainable,” says Miller.

The Affordable Health Care Act is a way to ensure quality and access of health care. The authors say mandating health insurance for everyone will have a positive impact. People with insurance are more likely to get preventive screening, have a usual physician and live longer, strengthening the patient-physician relationship.

Miller says there needs to be a focus on patients. Mandating insurance coverage, they say, is a “step in the right direction”, toward that goal. The authors say the Affordable Health Care Act has raised important legal questions, while little attention has been given to what it means in “real terms”.

JAMA: 2011;306(6):648-649. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1137
“The Individual Mandate and Patient-Centered Care”
Scott A. Berkowitz, MD, MBA; Edward D. Miller, MD

Image source: Wikimedia Commons