By JESSICA ANN TYSON
Frederick Douglas Foundation
(TriceEdneyWire.com) — As the relentless flu and COVID epidemics continue to plague the United States this winter season, it’s not unheard of to take extra precautions to keep your health in good shape. Whether it’s getting the flu shot, taking essential vitamins, or even washing their hands an extra few times a day, many people are taking the extra step to prevent seemingly endless diseases from being passed on. While these rituals seem to work for the majority, few find that not even their daily multivitamin can protect them from coming down with something.
In the 2021-2022 flu season, there were more than 4 million doctor visits and more than 10,000 hospitalizations from the flu virus alone. Combining the 10,000 flu hospitalizations together with the covid hospitalizations for the winter months 2021-2022, the number of people visiting and staying at healthcare facilities in this short time frame is reaching into the millions. As these numbers continue to rise, so does the cost of health care. Since 2010, individual insurance premiums have increased by more than 58% and family insurance premiums have increased by more than 63%. Despite these skyrocketing numbers, health insurance still manages to cover less and less each year.
As health insurance companies are moving away from coverage and moving closer to profit, more and more Americans are drowning in medical bills, struggling to make ends meet. The top five health insurers (United Health Group, Anthem, Centene, Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield) collectively generated more than $720 billion in profit in 2022 alone. The largest of the five insurers, United Health Group, it grossed more than $324 billion this year and is projected to bring in more than $360 billion in 2023. These record profits are an embarrassment to our healthcare system as hospitals are struggling to keep the lights on and patients I am unable to cover these absurd costs.
In 2017, with Washington in full control, Republicans worked to repeal Obamacare only to fall short. Now that they have the majority again, we must encourage the new leadership to offer a bold new vision that puts patients above profits and offers legislation that protects American patients’ access to affordable care. This is an opportunity for Congress to finally implement policies that will hold insurers accountable.
A survey conducted in 2019 shows that Americans collectively owe about $195 billion in medical debt, and that number will continue to rise. The US healthcare system is clearly no one’s friend; however, this system is particularly cruel to minority groups. While Americans have an estimated $195 billion in medical debt, the burden is unevenly distributed among American citizens. 28% of black households have medical debt compared to 17% of white households. Surveys have shown that in parts of the United States, people living in communities of color are four times more likely to have medical debt than those living in predominantly white communities. Racial disparities in health care continue to wreak havoc on minority groups, and health insurance company pricing is no help.
With the onset of Year 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season is in full swing, health insurance companies need to start becoming our allies rather than our enemies. These insurance companies are making enough profit to write off all of their medical debt time and time again, yet millions of Americans, and especially minorities, are constantly losing sleep over how to pay for surprise medical bills and monthly premiums. A system put in place to help patients get the health care they need now strictly serves the big insurance companies. It’s time for the health insurance giants to be held accountable and work for their patients instead of against them.
Jessica Ann Tyson is president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation Michigan Chapter. She has been listed as one of the most influential women by the Grand “Rapids Business Journal”. In 2014 she was appointed by the former Michigan governor to build the 21st Century Economy Commission and the Michigan Board of Nursing Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs Bureau of Health Care Services.