Aging Well: Divided We Fail, together we can do anything

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Divided We Fail

Divided We Fail is an educational campaign aimed at reminding elected officials and candidates about important health care issues. For more information about the campaign or to learn about ways you can help, visit www.DividedWeFail... or call the state office toll-free at 1-866-554-5376.

The health of Americans is at risk, not from new strains of flu but from the inability to pay the bill at the doctor's office, hospital or pharmacy.

For people who have no health care insurance or whose coverage is inadequate, seeking medical treatment often is a prescription for financial hardship, and their numbers are growing much faster than the nation's good health can afford.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than 47 million Americans went without health insurance in 2006. That's 2.2 million more than the previous year and more than 15 percent of the total population. It also marks the sixth year in a row that the ranks of uninsured have grown. Families USA estimates that by 2010 some 857,000 Coloradans will be uninsured.

AARP believes all Americans should have access to affordable, quality health care including prescription drugs, and these costs should not burden future generations. Instead of finding solutions, however, politicians have stalled, argued, criticized and blamed each other, leaving Americans with huge health care bills, premiums and deductibles that are climbing through the roof and eroding benefits. At the same time, Americans have little hope of reasonable, balanced, commonsense solutions.

AARP, Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union are stepping up to this challenge with Divided We Fail, a campaign aimed at reminding elected officials and candidates that health care and financial security issues are important to all Americans. It is an educational, nonpartisan campaign involving no candidate endorsements.

In 2006, the number of children nationwide without health insurance grew to 8.7 million or about 12 percent of all children. It was the second consecutive year the number of uninsured children increased.

Combine the estimated 16 million Americans with inadequate coverage with those who have none, and there are more than 63 million people who don't receive regular checkups, screenings for life-threatening diseases or rapid treatment that can prevent injuries from becoming disabilities.

A plethora of evidence shows emergency rooms do not provide sufficient backup to regular visits to the doctor. Preventive care, not emergency treatment, is the most cost-effective investment America can make in its health. The best indicator that a person will skip preventive care is having no insurance or not enough insurance.

This is exacerbated by the cost of health insurance, which is climbing rapidly, says the Kaiser Family Foundation. At the same time, wages show only modest growth. Since 2001, premiums for family coverage have risen 78 percent nationally, but wages have increased only about 19 percent. In Colorado, health insurance premiums for families rose more than five times more quickly than median earnings, according to the Partnership for a Healthy Colorado.

Employers cannot take up all the slack. The percentage of employers offering health insurance is shrinking, and employers with fewer than 200 workers are leading the way out. Hardest hit are construction, service and agricultural workers, who are the least likely to have health coverage through their jobs.

A recent survey by the Lockton Benefit Group of 494 employers found that Colorado employers report health plan costs increasing for 2008 an average of 12.9 percent more than the prior year's rates. This rate of increase is significantly higher than what has been reported previously in national surveys.

Morie Pierce Smile, is the Colorado Campaign Manager for Divided We Fail. She can be reached at mpsmile@aarp.org.

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