The First Lady visited Caroline Family Practice Community Health Center yesterday, where she participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to honor the opening of the new clinic. The clinic opened last week, after using $1.3 million in Recovery Act funds, part of $2 billion designated to upgrade and expand community health centers, to convert an abandoned grocery store into a medical facility.
Before giving her remarks, the First Lady met with two primary care physicians, a dentist, a medical student, a pediatrician, and a patient to listen to their health care experiences, and ask a few questions. The First Lady was particularly interested in the shortage of primary care physicians in this country. Community health centers play a critical role in our health care system, providing primary care to 17 million people – people who likely would not otherwise receive care. The Caroline Family Practice is located in Bowling Green, a rural area north of Richmond, which has been federally designated as a medically underserved area. As the First Lady explained, this clinic provides patients with access to the primary and preventative care they need, instead of forcing them to resort to expensive emergency room visits:
And one of the main reasons for this is the reason why we're all here today – and it's because that right now, today here in America, 60 million people in this country don't have adequate access to primary care. They don't have any access at all. Many of them are uninsured and can't afford any kind of health care at all. That's a good chunk of them. Many actually have insurance, but live in underserved areas, like this one – inner cities or small rural towns where there aren't any primary care providers to speak of. They have to drive hours.
So what happens to folks in America in this situation is that they don't get check-ups. They don't get regular, routine screenings that keep us healthy. When they get sick, their only option is to wait until it gets so bad that they have to visit the emergency room. And then they wind up lurching from illness to illness, and crisis to crisis, getting emergency care instead of health care. And we wind up spending billions of dollars each year to treat diseases that – for far less money – we could prevent in the first place.
We will spend thousands of dollars for an emergency room visit and hospital stay for a child, for example, having an acute asthma attack that could have been prevented by a $100 doctor's visit and a $50 inhaler. We'll spend tens of thousands to treat complications from diabetes that could have been prevented by a couple hundred dollars worth of counseling on nutrition and blood sugar monitoring. And today, chronic – and preventable – illnesses like diabetes and obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure consume 85 percent of all health care spending in this country. That's what we're spending our money on here.
The First Lady explained that we need more emphasis on providing care, and educating people so that we can prevent disease, instead of just treating it. This is what reform is all about – providing access to quality, affordable care to all people. She stressed that health insurance reform is critical for all of us, even those who are currently satisfied with their insurance:
But the question becomes, even if you're in that situation, what happens if you lose your job, and then your coverage goes away, and then you can't find a new job right away? Those are some of the stories I've heard. Or if you want to change jobs, but your new employer doesn't offer any insurance at all because more and more employers are finding it difficult to keep up with the cost of health care? Or what if you decide you want to change insurance plans, but your new insurer decides that you have a preexisting condition, or your age or your gender or your health status means that they need to charge you a fortune for that insurance? What if you get sick, and they decide you're too expensive to insure? That happens. And then they drop your coverage completely. See, these are the things that happen to hardworking, responsible people who've done exactly what they thought they should do. It's happening every single day across this country.
And of course, there are plenty of folks who won't experience any of these misfortunes. There really are. They're blessed. And despite rising costs and declining coverage, some of them are convinced that things are just fine right now. But even if that were true, even if the status quo were acceptable to us, then the question becomes, what about 10 years from now?
If we don't pass reform, within a decade we'll actually be spending one out of every five dollars we earn on health insurance. In 30 years, when my kids are ready to come into the world, it will be one in every three dollars spent on health care. So think about that – one in every three dollars by the time our kids get to be where we are. And without reform, what we spend on Medicaid and Medicare – government programs – will eventually be more than what our government spends on anything else – anything else – that we spend today.
Right now, premiums are rising three times faster than wages – right now, today. And if we don't pass reform, they're going to keep on rising in this way. So think about how much we'll be paying 10 years from now without reform. That's what we have to project. Folks who have insurance they like now could find themselves overwhelmed with sky-high premiums and much higher out-of-pocket costs