“The first wealth is health” is an aphorism coined by American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1860. And it continues to ring true even today. Our capacity to lead a happy, productive, and fulfilling life hinges on how healthy we are and our ability to receive prompt medical care when problems arise. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, individuals who have access to health insurance are less likely to suffer from chronic disease and often live longer than those who do not. Generally speaking, individuals without health insurance do not get routine health screenings. That means they do not undergo blood and other diagnostic tests that could identify potential health problems early.
What Everyone Should Know About the Uninsured Crisis in America
For those unaware, the U.S. is the only country in the world that doesn’t have universal health insurance. Because of that, healthcare spending, both per person and as a share of its gross domestic product (GDP), is higher in the U.S. than in other high-income countries. Most people gain access to health insurance through their employer since they pick up most of the tab, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is as much as 78% of an employee’s medical premiums. Sadly, some people don’t have health insurance at all, which means they and their families are at a heightened risk of developing chronic health problems and incurring substantial medical debt as a result.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 8.4% or roughly 27.6 million people in the U.S. did not have health insurance in 2022. But there is some good news. Thanks to several government organizations, many people are gaining access to health coverage and are finally looking after their health and the health of their families.
An example of such an organization is Healthy People 2030, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initiative that aims to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is another example. Also known as Obamacare, ACA is a comprehensive reform law that increases health insurance coverage for the uninsured and implements change within the health insurance market. To appreciate what these two programs mean to people in a country that doesn’t have universal health insurance, we need to look at them individually.
Healthy People 2030
What makes Healthy People 2030 special is its focus on the health and well-being of all Americans. The organization works to eliminate health disparity, achieve health equity, improve health literacy, and create the kind of framework that benefits the physical and mental health of men, women, and children.
The Affordable Care Act
For those who are unemployed or underemployed, the Affordable Care Act provides means to comprehensive health insurance, not only for them but also for their family. Just like group coverage through an employer, the Affordable Care Act through a participating marketplace health insurance provider covers the following:
- Annual wellness exams
- Counseling and other mental health services
- Emergency health services
- Maternity and newborn care
- Pediatric services
- Prescription drugs
The Affordable Care Act is only available to U.S. citizens or nationals, and to be eligible, individuals must prove they have income above 100% of the federal poverty level.
Why It Pays to Have Access to Healthcare
Along with coverage for annual wellness exams, access to healthcare ensures individuals diagnosed with a chronic health condition receive the quality care they need. Multiple studies show that people with health insurance and access to health care generally receive better treatment for autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and other chronic diseases. That better treatment can lower an individual’s chances of developing disease-related complications. But it does not end there; access to health insurance and quality health care offers so much more, some of which include
Reduced Reliance on Emergency Care
Approximately 32.1% of hospital emergency room visits are non-urgent. That’s the conclusion reached in a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many Americans who do not have health insurance and access to quality healthcare often go to hospital emergency rooms to seek treatment for minor health problems. Doing so leads to them having to wait hours to see a physician. These non-urgent visits also put a tremendous strain on hospitals that are already understaffed. Health insurance and quality healthcare can help put an end to both. The combination lowers the need for individuals to unnecessarily postpone care or rely on emergency services for non-emergency health conditions. With fewer non-urgent visits, hospitals can focus their efforts on real emergencies.
Improved Health Literacy
According to the CDC, health literacy can lead to fewer health problems. It also contributes to better management of health problems when they arise. So that everyone is on the same page, health literacy refers to having the skills necessary to participate in the healthcare system and improve or safeguard one’s health. A growing body of evidence suggests that individuals with health insurance are more likely to have a regular primary care provider who will educate them on various health issues. That enables them to make better, more informed decisions concerning their health and less reticent to seek help if they suspect something is wrong.
Reduced Financial Burden
An astonishing 23% of Americans have medical debt, with most cases resulting from not having health insurance, access to quality healthcare, or both when they had to seek treatment for a health problem. Access to quality healthcare and health insurance reduces the financial burden that often goes hand in hand with some health conditions. Available data shows that the average health insurance policy pays 60% to 90% of an individual’s covered expenses.
In summary, having access to quality healthcare can lead to a longer, healthier life. Of course, that requires having health insurance coverage. Whether it’s group coverage via an employer, the Affordable Care Act, or something else, there are many ways for individuals to get the health insurance they need for themselves and their families without breaking the bank.