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July 19, 2009
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Commentary: The time to act on health care crisis is now

Skyrocketing health care costs have working families struggling to make ends meet and are pushing employers to the brink. But some in Washington, and here in Nevada, are telling us that we cannot afford health reform, and that we need to wait. This just doesn't make sense. Now is the time to fix the system so we have quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

As wages tighten and unemployment rises, soaring medical costs are squeezing individuals, families, businesses and the nation as a whole. One in two Americans say someone in their family skipped pills, postponed or cut back on needed medical care due to the cost. Increasing medical expenses can often lead to filing for bankruptcy.

And, government spending on health programs is rising so rapidly that it jeopardizes other priorities.

The financial burden of health care will only get worse over time without action. If nothing is done, the average family premium for employer-sponsored insurance will jump by nearly 40 percent in four years, and will almost double by 2016. The full cost will rise from an average of about $13,000 this year to over $24,000 in 2016.

As health care costs continue to grow faster than wages, insurance will become more and more unaffordable. The share of income spent on family's health insurance will nearly double between now and 2016 - jumping from 6.7 percent of median household income this year to 9 percent in 4 years, and to 12 percent in 8 years.

Money spent on employee health insurance is money that can't go into paychecks to keep up with the costs of other necessities. Employers - if they can afford to keep picking up most of the cost of employee coverage - will see their share of health insurance bills increase from an average of almost $9,900 per worker today to $13,300 in 2012 and $17,900 in 2016.

The financial protection offered by health insurance will continue to deteriorate if we do not act. Without health reform, the average health insurance deductible - what people have to pay before their insurance kicks in - will climb 73 percent in the next eight years to over $2,000.

The deepening economic crisis will force millions to turn to government help for health care without reform. Many economists predict that the national unemployment rate will reach 10 percent by the end of the year. Unless something is done, each one percentage point rise in the unemployment rate could cause 1.1 million to become uninsured and Medicaid and SCHIP enrollment to jump by 1 million at a cost to taxpayers of $3.4 billion.

And yet in the midst of all this despairing news, there is hope. Americans are coming together to demand solutions. We are building a groundswell of voices to demand that elected officials deliver on their campaign promises to fix health care. Together we can help turn the current national health care nightmare back into the American dream - for now and for generations to come.

• Carla Sloan is state director of the AARP Nevada office.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jul 19, 2009 03:10AM Published Jul 19, 2009 03:10AM Copyright 2009 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.