Friday, October 9, 2015

Health insurance should know no borders

Cancer is never convenient. But imagine, if you will, fighting the disease while living in Allegany County. For comprehensive oncology services a patient from Wellsville and the person driving him or her would have to drive almost two hours one-way to Wilmot Cancer Institute in Rochester or Roswell Park in Buffalo. It’s known that over 600 Allegany County cancer patients make that trip to Wilmot multiple times every year and the numbers are likely similar for drives to Roswell.

To address this glaring need and give Southern Tier residents access to cancer care closer to home, Noyes Memorial Hospital of Dansville is working in partnership with Wilmot and Jones Memorial of Wellsville to create a regional cancer center. Construction of the $10.4 million project will begin later this month with the 6,800 square foot center giving residents of Allegany, Livingston and Steuben counties the best in care and the latest in technology.

It shouldn’t be this way. The hospitals and the public shouldn’t be on the hook for spending such money to build this center (the endeavor has secured $4.1 million from three donors alone), nor should have Allegany County area residents been subjected to long, uncomfortable rides to get cancer treatments over the past few decades. That’s because full oncology services have been available at Patterson Cancer Center in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, which is only 40 minutes away from Wellsville.

But availability and accessibility are entirely different animals when it comes to healthcare.

Due to laws that inhibit and/or outright prevent the sale and use of health insurance across state borders, Patterson has always been considered “out of network” for most Allegany County residents. So, they couldn’t make the short, convenient trip south into Pennsylvania and, instead, were forced to make long, agonizing trips north.

This is not unique to New York. Consider the state of California, which has a very long border. There are numerous horror stories of residents of mountain communities who have to take long, dangerous, and meandering trips into the heart of the state to get the care they need, when commutes to Reno and other out-of-state cities would be quicker and safer.

The topic of interstate insurance is nothing new – it was a major Republican talking point during the development of the Affordable Care Act. The GOP cited the cost savings that would be had were insurers able to work across state borders and the insured were able to buy national or regional plans. Simple things like eliminating repetitive costs (like insurers having to staff their own corporate bureaucracy for each individual state) would save billions. That, in conjunction with the savings to the consumer gleaned from increased competition (and the race to the bottom, if you will), would cause health insurance premiums to drop dramatically, easily by double-digit percentage points compared to current values.

While a compelling case was made, it never made it into the ACA. Despite the alleged drive to make everything “affordable”, interstate insurance was glossed over by the Democrats and the Obama Administration.

That’s too bad, because not only do the limits of state borders create costly insurance policies, but they also create heartache and pain for those personally affected by the limitations imposed upon them. 

To right those wrongs, we have a Constitutional obligation to allow a multi-state insurance market (its interstate trade, and human beings are pretty darn portable across state borders) and we also have a moral obligation for it – we cannot claim to have a fair and just healthcare system if we purposely rob the sick of convenient access to care. Someone who has cancer already has a decreased quality of life, why should insurance laws make it even worse for them?

From the 12 October 2015 Greater Niagara Newspapers

No comments: