Tuesday, January 23, 2007


aegis \EE-jis\, noun:
1. Protection; support.
2. Sponsorship; patronage.
3. Guidance, direction, or control.
4. A shield or protective armor; -- applied in mythology to the shield of Zeus.

Health insurance, like the shield of Zeus, is meant to be the aegis of the masses, not something available only to the priviledged few. Organizations around the country are galvanizing for a further push towards coverage for all citizens as healthcare costs skyrocket and preventive healthcare is superceded by use of emergency rooms for primary care issues. With costs escalating exponentially, more and more employers are shedding---or at least eviscerating---their employee coverage, with the working poor left out in the cold, as usual. As often happens, California and Massachusetts are leading the way, being watched as litmus tests for the rest of the nation, everyone on the edge of their seats to see if these efforts fail like all of their predecessors, either from lack of political will or economic fears fed by a jittery Wall Street.

What will it take for this country to insure everyone, when the numbers of uninsured Americans continues to climb? As of August of last year, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that the number of uninsured Americans stood at 46.6 million in 2005, a shocking 15.9% of the total population. Additionally, the 2006 CBPP report underscored the fact that
"the number of children who are uninsured rose from 7.9 million in 2004 to 8.3 million in 2005."

What do those numbers say about our society and how can citizens force their legislators to tackle such a contentious issue? For those of us in the healthcare fields, seeing the effects of poor health coverage on the ground, the continued effects of this emergent situation will only exacerbate the overall poor health of the American citizenry. With no health insurance, low earning power, a frozen minimum wage, exorbitant rents, high gas prices and increasing food costs, the working poor are left to their own devices, often faced with devastating hospital bills and nowhere to turn. Cheap foods laden with sugar and fat feed the obesity epidemic, and the poor feel they have no other choice but to fill their children's bellies with such fare. And those children, developing diabetes in record numbers, will only further stress the healthcare infrastructure as they age and face complications from poorly controlled chronic illness. (And we thought the care of the Baby Boomers would break the bank.)

It is a stark and frightening picture, but just like global warming, there is a window of opportunity to turn the tide before the levees break and there is no turning back. Burying our heads in the proverbial health insurance sand will do little to assuage the coming calamity, and meanwhile millions of children go to sleep not only hungry, but with no means to have their basic health needs met. Something has to give, and it had better give soon. We will all bear responsibility for the outcome---just as we will vis-a-vis climate change---and the potential for success has to be our driving engine.

There must be an aegis, a shield, and that protection is long, long overdue. From where will it emerge?

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