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Health, Science, Environment

Commentary: What to do about health care? 100 percent coverage

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 27, 2009 - At Ascension Health, we believe there can be only one goal or destination for health reform: 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage for all people in America. As Congress continues to debate various plans and proposals to reform America's health-care system, we encourage the members to keep in mind the scope of the problem.

When one examines the American health-care system, the facts are sobering.

To begin, we all know that the number of uninsured is growing. Most of us can claim family members or friends who, in these tough economic times, find themselves without health insurance coverage. Today there are more than 46 million people in our country without any health insurance, and there are millions more without adequate coverage.

As the nation's largest nonprofit health-care system, Ascension Health sees firsthand the human impact of millions of Americans who are either underinsured or uninsured. In fact, last year Ascension Health's hospitals and other health-care facilities cared for one uninsured person approximately every 34 seconds, every day.

Second, health-care costs are rising and will continue to rise. Americans already spend more than $2.5 trillion a year on health care. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated this year that unless health reforms are enacted, total U.S. health-care spending will rise to 20 percent of GDP, compared with 16 percent now. It is estimated that by 2016 our spending will be more than $4 trillion.

Finally, although we spend more money than any other country, we're not healthier for it; we do not receive better care or enjoy improved outcomes. A Commonwealth Fund survey of primary care physicians and patients in five other nations -- Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom -- found that the U.S. health-care system ranks last or next to last on five key dimensions of a high performance health system. Those dimensions are quality, access, efficiency, equity and healthy lives. Much of this is due to the fact that 46 million Americans have no health-care coverage at all.

We at Ascension Health have made a promise to provide "Healthcare That Leaves No One Behind." This promise is the foundation of our commitment to advocate for and help lead the transformation of health care. It is grounded in the centuries-old commitment of Ascension Health. Our organization recognizes that health-care access is fundamental to human dignity.

We see the need for a health-care system that can provide prenatal care for expectant mothers, help those in midlife manage chronic diseases and reduce the pain and suffering of those at the end of life. In short, we believe that any health reform measure must have 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage as the ultimate goal.

Ascension Health has developed a set of Guiding Features we look for in health reform, which is captured in our 100 Percent Campaign. We want to see everyone in America have access to health care and health coverage by 2020. Any other goal does not achieve true health reform.

To make 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage work, we realize all must share responsibility. Setting a clear goal of 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage requires businesses, government, health-care providers and individuals to work together. It is in that national effort that every person, rich or poor, old or young, will receive excellent care leading to good health. Access and coverage for all is a fundamental building block for a modern society.

About the author

Susan Nestor Levy is chief advocacy officer at Ascension Health, which is sponsored by the Congregation of St. Joseph, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and four provinces of the Daughters of Charity.

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