Growing up in largely Latino Southern Arizona directly exposed me to how a large portion of the population deals with their health care needs — they drive for 45 minutes down to south of the border to take advantage of less expensive health care and pharmaceuticals.
Has American health care become so expensive that we have to outsource medical care, too?
A recent study conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that an estimated 1 million Californians seek medical, dental or prescription coverage in Mexico each year.
The fact that 46.3 million people remain uninsured is a clear sign that the current system isn’t beneficial to everyone. Working a low-income job with limited or no health benefits doesn’t suddenly diminish a person’s health care needs, nor does it lower the cost. Doctors across the border understand this and capitalize on the medical visits to Mexico.
Interestingly enough, Latino US citizens account for only half of the citizens traveling across the border for health care, which costs roughly a little less than half of what it would cost in the United States without insurance. The trip south is suddenly a little less inconvenient when parents can pay $2,400 for their children’s braces as opposed to the minimum $5,000 it would cost in the US.
The incentive to travel south rises when considering that 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in 2007 were caused by health problems. Shockingly, 71 percent of those that filed for bankruptcy were covered.
Steps were taken on Tuesday when congressional committees endorsed a bill for health care reform. The legislation, which faces major hurdles before it will hit the Senate floor for debate by the end of the month, looks to expand Medicaid and federal subsidies for lower-income families, as well as keep a harsher tab on insurance companies.
Legislation is far from complete, and only one member of the GOP, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, currently endorses the bill. It may be a while before many Americans can find affordable coverage above the border.
Border-hopping for treatment carries its fair share of risks. Primarily, there’s a lack of access to malpractice insurance coverage. If a procedure goes wrong, liability could go out the window.
These concerns are enough to keep most Americans away from Mexico for their health care needs, but, when push comes to shove, people are more prone to take the only risk they can afford. A $21,000 heart bypass is certainly more accessible than the up to $144,000 it can cost in the United States.
Price disparities don’t need to be so high. Japan, which has the highest life expectancy in the world, pays $2,581 annually per person; the United States pays a staggering $7,290 with a life expectancy that only ranks 42nd internationally.
The fact remains that citizens shouldn’t have to foreclose on their homes to pay for surgery, or else go across the border to get it. Yet conservatives still cry that letting the government take over health care gives them that much more power over citizens, as demonstrated by the paltry support for the comprehensive reform.
Instead of giving the power to a $2.3-trillion industry run by insurance companies that can discriminate against anyone with preexisting health conditions, the government can and should step in. And they’re trying to.
For those that disagree with the platform of extended health care, take a walk in the shoes of the 15.4 percent of Americans without health insurance. That’s entering a pool where 45,000 will die annually because they are uninsured — one needless death every 12 minutes.
Citizens should not have to put up with this discrepancy. It’s the people in these situations that Obama set out to help, and it’s these people who are going to suffer if the health care reform doesn’t pass.
Lobbyists for the insurance industry, however, are making their best efforts to stop it, out of fear for lost profits. They strategically released a report one day before a critical senate vote on the matter, arguing the plan could cost families $4,000 more than expected in 2019.
Lobbyists neglected to mention that, with premiums rising at three times the rate of wages, families can expect to pay $24,000 per year by 2016 under the system currently in place.
The government is hardly criticized for building roads or funding schools, but, for some reason, trying to give everyone reasonable health care coverage is out of line. Isn’t our health, though, more important than anything else? It’s not as if people are advocating socialism, increased government size or rampant debt — yet many are treating the situation that way.
Fortunately, Southern Californians don’t have to worry about this dilemma because people here have access to affordable health care already. They just have to go to Mexico to get it.
Robert Fragoza is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. His column, “Reality Check,” runs Fridays.