By Jessica Ann Tyson
As the incessant flu and covid outbreaks continue to plague the U.S. this winter season, it is not unheard of to take further precautions to keep your health in good shape. Whether that’s getting your flu shot, taking essential vitamins, or even washing your hands a few more times a day, lots of people are taking the extra step to avoid the seemingly never-ending sicknesses being passed around.
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 four million medical visits and over 10,000 hospitalizations for the influenza virus alone. Combining the 10,000 hospitalizations from the flu alongside of covid hospitalizations for the 2021-2022 winter months, the number of people visiting and staying at healthcare facilities in this short time frame is pushing well into the millions. As these numbers continue to rise, so does the cost of healthcare. Since 2010, individual insurance premiums have risen over 58 percent, and family insurance premiums have risen more than 63 percent. Despite these skyrocketing numbers, health insurance still manages to cover less and less each year.
While health insurance companies are moving further from coverage and closer to profit, more and more Americans are drowning in medical bills, struggling to make ends meet. The top five health insurance companies (UnitedHealth Group, Anthem, Centene, Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield) collectively generated a profit of over $720 billion in 2022 alone. The largest of the five insurance companies, UnitedHealth Group, raked in over $324 billion dollars this year and is projected to bring in more than $360 billion in 2023. These record-breaking profits are an embarrassment to our healthcare system as hospitals are struggling to keep the lights on and patients are unable to cover these absurd costs.
In 2017, with full control of Washington, Republicans worked to repeal Obamacare only to come up short. Now that they have the majority again, we need to encourage the new leadership to offer a bold new vision that puts patients over profits and offers legislation that would protect American patient’s access to affordable care. This is an opportunity for Congress to finally implement policies that will hold insurers accountable.
A survey taken in 2019 shows that Americans collectively owe around $195 billion in medical debt and that number will only continue to rise. The US healthcare system is clearly no friend to anyone; however, this system is especially cruel to minority groups. While Americans owe around $195 billion in medical debt, the burden is unevenly distributed among American citizens. Roughly 28 percent of Black households hold medical debt compared to 17 percent of white households. Surveys have shown that in parts of the US, people living in communities of color are four times more likely to have medical debt compared to those living in predominantly white communities. The racial disparities in healthcare continue to devastate minority groups and the price gouging of health insurance companies is of no help.
In year three of the COVID-19 pandemic begins, and as flu season kicks into high gear, health insurance companies need to start becoming our allies rather than our enemies. These insurance companies are bringing in enough profit to wipe out all medical debt several times over, yet millions of Americans, and especially minorities, are consistently losing sleep over how to pay off surprise medical bills and monthly premiums. A system put in place to help patients get the health care they need is now strictly serving big insurance.
It’s time for 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, an organization is focused on public policy and education. Tyson has been listed as one of the Most Influential Women by Grand Rapids Business Journal. She was appointed to Building the 21st Century Economy Commission and Michigan Board of Nursing Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Bureau of Health Care Services by former Governor Rick Snyder in 2014.