Critical Condition’s Roger Weisberg Answers Viewer Questions

by |

Roger Weisberg is the director of Critical Condition, which aired on POV on September 30, 2008 and is streaming in its entirety online until November 11, 2008.

After the broadcast, many viewers wrote with questions for Roger. Read on for Weisberg’s responses to some of the questions he received.
Margo asks: What can I and others really do to help change this antiquated system we call health care?

Roger Weisberg: 1. Write your elected officials and urge them to support efforts to extend health insurance to all Americans.
2. Host a screening or house party to bring visibility to this issue and encourage discussion about health care reform.
3. Join local community groups and national organizations that are pushing the next president and Congress to move the nation towards universal health insurance. For more information about action steps, go to the Take Action page on the POV Critical Condition website.
4. Learn more about this issue and what the presidential candidates are saying about health care reform, and vote for the presidential candidate who is mostly likely to tackle this problem. To learn more about the candidates’ positions on health care reform, go to POV’s Presidential Plans in Action page.

Adam asks: How can I help Carlos and his family? What can we do to help other people who are uninsured?
Weisberg: Carlos is doing much better. He is now four inches taller and is out of pain for the first time in 15 years. He is able to enjoy his newly acquired ability to play with his four children, and says, “I’m very pleased that I’ve gotten a second chance at life.” About three months after his surgery, Carlos returned to work, but he still has no health insurance. The policy offered at his job is still too expensive for him, and in light of his documented pre-existing condition, Carlos thinks it would be even more expensive than before his operation.

There are several concrete steps people can take to help people like Carlos. They can support various free clinics and community health centers that provide services to the uninsured. There are often volunteer opportunities available at these organizations as well. People can also join or support various community groups, advocacy organizations and grassroots organizations that are trying to improve access to health care for the uninsured. Lastly, people can become more involved in political initiatives at the local, state and national level. The Critical Condition website offers links to many organizations that can help viewers become more informed and involved.

Larry asks: Of the 47 million uninsured Americans you mentioned in your film, how many are illegal immigrants? And how many could have afforded insurance, but declined to pay for it out of their own pocket? And how many are eligible for some kind of coverage, but have failed to enroll? I am sympathetic to the characters in the film, but also feel that people need to take personal responsibility for their choices.

Weisberg: Of the 47 million uninsured in 2006, about 4 in 5 (78 percent) were U.S. citizens. Because the main government surveys that ask about health insurance do not ask whether immigrants have legal documentation to be in the U.S., it is impossible to say for sure how many of the 10 million or so uninsured immigrants are undocumented. However, we do know that in 2006, 70 percent of uninsured noncitizens had been in the U.S. for 6 years or more.

With respect to the numbers of people who could have afforded health insurance but declined to pay for it: evidence suggests that when people have access to affordable coverage, most purchase it. Only 1.5 percent of adults say they are uninsured because they do not need coverage. Even among low-income employees, more than half sign up for coverage from their employer when it is offered. Those who do not sign up may not be able to pay their share of the premiums. In 2008, the average annual total premiums for coverage through an employer are $4,704 for individual coverage and $12,680 for family coverage. The amount workers have to pay towards those premiums varies by employer, with 30 percent of smaller employers asking employees to contribute more than half of the premium costs for family coverage. For those who do not have access to employer-sponsored coverage or who cannot afford their share of the premiums, it can be difficult to find coverage on the individual market. About half of uninsured adults have a chronic condition, which may cause insurers to reject them or charge them higher rates if they tried to purchase coverage on their own.

In terms of those who are eligible for coverage, but who have failed to enroll: confusion over who qualifies for Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and an enrollment process that can be difficult to navigate have left one-quarter of the uninsured without coverage, despite being eligible for these programs (2004 data). Most of those who are eligible for public insurance but uninsured are children or parents. About three-quarters of uninsured children are eligible for public coverage, about 28 percent of uninsured parents are eligible and 8 percent of uninsured adults without children are eligible. Children are more likely to be eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP than their parents and most childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid regardless of income. Many states have tried to streamline eligibility and increase awareness of Medicaid and SCHIP to prevent those who are eligible from remaining uninsured, but federal rules and state budget constraints have limited these efforts.
Chris asks: How might alternative health care fit into the equation? Many alternative health care options are available and are a great avenue for preventive care.

Weisberg: At the moment, 47 million Americans have no health insurance whatsoever, and an additional 20 million are “underinsured,” which means that their policies have such high copayments, deductibles and exclusions that they experience many of the same access barriers as the uninsured. While it would be nice if the public could access alternative health care options, our first priority needs to be to guarantee access to a basic standard of medical care for all Americans. Then we can have a reasonable discussion about what forms of alternative medicine should be available as part of a basic package of medical benefits.

Rhea asks: I believe that when it comes to health care, insurance companies should be taken completely out of the picture and health care should be nationalized. However, I wouldn’t know the first thing about what steps need to be taken to work toward nationalizing health care in this country. Any suggestions?

Weisberg: There are many national, state and local grassroots organizations working on various national health insurance proposals. One organization that is committed to a government-financed health care system that would put private insurance companies out of business is Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP). This organization has the support of thousands of doctors and proposes to replace private insurance companies with a single-payer system that could be most easily described as Medicare for everyone. For more information about PNHP, visit their website. For links to other advocacy organizations, go to the POV website for Critical Condition.

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.