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The cost of insuring the uninsured

Lost in the character assassination, sophomoric use of labels, political name-calling and sound-bites that passed for an election campaign was any realistic debate about the cost of insuring the uninsured. Bush’s effort was deemed to be too modest, while Kerry accused of bankrupting the system to cover the uninsured.
Now that the dust has settled, it’s likely that there will be little progress in this critical area – health care is not a key issue for most voters (who, after all, have health insurance either from private payers or thru Medicare).
With the politicians absent from the field, now is a good time to return to the issue.
The first question is cost – simply put, how much would it cost?
Fortunately “Health Affairs” published an interesting assessment in late 2003 by two of their editors…
“Using data from surveys of individuals, providers, and government programs, Jack Hadley and John Holahan estimate that uninsured Americans received $35 billion worth of uncompensated health care in 2001. Governments picked up $30.6 billion of the cost, while physicians’ and hospitals’ forgone time, profits, and philanthropy were responsible for between $7.5-$9.8 billion’s worth of care for uninsured Americans.
In a second article, Hadley and Holahan project that it would cost between $33.9 billion and $68.7 billion to cover the uninsured. The lower cost would be under a government program, which would likely pay providers less, while the higher cost assumes the uninsured are enrolled in private-sector insurance plans that pay providers more.”
There you have it. By way of comparison, consider we are spending significantly more than that in Iraq.

Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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