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Gold medal coverage for our athletes? Not for them – or Aurora victims, or so many others

NNU Blog, 7/27/12

It’s been one month, almost exactly, since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. But almost every day provides a fresh reminder of the need to go much farther to permanently fix our broken health care system.
 
Most notable has been the flurry of news reports about the uninsured hospitalized victims of the terrorist mass shooting in Aurora, Co. many of whom are now facing medical bills that in some cases that could top $1 million or more.
 
One prominent case is 22-year-old Petra Anderson, hit four times, including a shotgun pellet in the face that might have been fatal except for a rare birth defect that, reportedly, fortunately deflected the path of the shotgun buck shot.
 
While her recovery comes first, says her sister Chloe, the next question is how will they pay for her treatment, estimated to run at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, as told in this NBC news report.

Petra has insurance – but like so many others, it is woefully inadequate.  So Petra’s family had to go on the web with a video that went viral across the world pleading for contributions. Many have come. But is begging for help on the internet really the best societal response to un-payable medical bills?
 
ER Dr. Camilla Sasson, who treated Petra and other shooting victims doesn’t think so. “I think it is actually wrong,” she told NBC News. “We’re one of the only countries where people don’t have insurance or are they are under insured and having something tragic happen to them when they’re going to the movie theater can actually send them into bankruptcy.”
 
NBC’s report came first on its coverage of the opening of the Olympic Games in London. The Washington Post, looking for a different angle on that mega story, found an interesting anomaly. The athletes we root for face their own problems if they get hurt.
 
Health coverage for the athletes is all over the board. Different plans for different sports. Most inadequate.
 
Many are “covered” by Elite Athletes Health Insurance Plan, administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield. But this plan, notes Kliff, while covering “the basics, things like doctors’ visits and preventive care,” has a rather notable missing element – “big, expensive sports injuries.” (Such as befell Canadian world class skier Sarah Burke, in January who suffered a fatal accident while training in Utah, leaving her family with massive bills they would not have had if the accident had occurred at home in Canada that prompted them as well to ask for financial help on the internet.)
 
Nearly all the athletes, she writes, have to take out a second plan to cover catastrophic injuries. And guess how our private insurance system tracks them: “The less experienced athletes can get a rawer deal: the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation varies its deductibles from $250 to $2,500, with the least accomplished athletes paying the highest amount.”
 
Kind of a perverse twist on a private system that always finds a way to discriminate against somebody, usually on the basis of age, gender, ability to pay or other socio-economic factors.
 
Most Americans, fortunately, do not get shot while going to the movies, nor are they under the spotlight of international Olympic focus. But away from the media glare, so many others face similar problems.
 
Will the ACA repair the damage? No. The positives in the law do not erase it’s gaping holes. Most notably the millions it leaves with no coverage – a number upgraded to 30 million by the Congressional Budget Office this week – and the very weak constraints the law sets for ever rising insurance costs and hospital bills.
 
While the U.S. athletes may win the most medals, athletes in many of the other countries already have something U.S. athletes do not, the one Dr. Sasson alluded to – guaranteed healthcare through national health plans, such as our Medicare assures for people 65 and over.
 
Nurses will not stop the campaign to expand, and improve, Medicare to cover all. Whether you are a high profile shooting victims, Olympic athletes, anyone else,  no one in this country should  have to worry about their health security ever again.

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