Americans are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the health insurance costs of the employer-sponsored health care system, according to the annual Health Confidence Survey.
The survey found that overall dissatisfaction with health insurance costs increased from 33 percent last year to 52 percent, with most of the frustration being caused by rising costs. Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 30 percent consider the system poor, 28 percent consider it fair, and 10 percent would rate it as very good. Sixty percent of respondents reported that their health insurance costs went up last year, and 28 percent said that those costs had impaired their ability to pay for housing, heat and food. Only 77 percent of those surveyed were covered by a company health plan -- down from 81 percent in 2001 -- and 75 percent of respondents said they would rather have a company health plan than a pay raise of $6,700, which is the average cost for a company to cover an individual worker. Thirteen percent said no pay raise would be big enough to get them to part with employer coverage.
"There is a continuing shift," said Dallas L. Salisbury, President of the Employee Benefit Research Institute. "Even some of the companies in the unionized sector have introduced cost-sharing for the first time ever. Employees who were paying nothing are now paying something, and those who were paying something are paying more."
"We will reach the 'tipping point' very soon, said columnist Blake Fleetwood on his Huffington Post blog. "Not only because people are needlessly dying, but because big and small business are being hobbled by astronomical health costs."
Fleetwood notes that the rising health care costs have all but slain the American giants of employment, such as General Motors and Ford, both of which are reporting losses due to health care costs. The best bet for both companies, Fleetwood said, would be to move production to Canada, where the Government would pay for most of their health care costs.
"We're spending more on health care and less on the auto business, and frankly that does not work," said John Devine, GMs chief financial officer. "A system that has relied solely on the back of U.S. business I don't think is going to be sustainable."
Fleetwood said the relationship between health care insurance and employers is almost exclusive to the United States, caused by companies offering free health insurance and tax-free premiums instead of higher wages during World War II wage and price constraints. In Canada, private employers spend about 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product on health care, whereas U.S. employers spend around 7.7 percent. Most employers outside the United States can rely on a taxpayer-sponsored single payer health care system.
Fleetwood said that 47 million Americans are totally uninsured, and the subsequent lack of medical care causes needless deaths every year, which he surmises is why the United States is 37th in overall health system performance, including infant and adult mortality and life expectancy.
"The U.S. Health system looks especially dysfunctional when you consider how much money we spend per capita -- more than $6,000 per year for health care, twice as much as any other country -- and how little we get for it," Fleetwood said. "No wonder people are unhappy."
"It's not difficult to see where all this is going," said Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and critic of Western health care practices. "As long as Western medicine ignores real prevention and focuses primarily on a drugs-and-surgery approach to managing disease symptoms, health care costs will continue to rise, eroding the global competitiveness of U.S. businesses and ultimately burdening the U.S. economy with a financial load it cannot bear.
"Health care costs will ultimately bankrupt this nation," he said.
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