The United States Supreme Court has been hearing arguments all week on whether it should strike down the new federal healthcare law passed by Congress and supported by the Obama administration. The most controversial aspect of the law, the so-called "private mandate," requires all individuals to purchase health insurance or face a financial penalty. It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court decides in this landmark case.
In the meantime, the whole issue of health insurance, and whether you have it or do not have it, leads to a simple question that we often get from our clients, "Will the doctor or hospital treat me differently if they know I do not have insurance?"
Although there are some exceptions, our general experience is that people tend to get the same level of care - - - some good, some bad - - - regardless of whether they have private health insurance. One of the reasons is this. The hospitals and doctors realize that in many instances, even if people do not have private insurance, there is a government program out there that will probably pay for the patient's care. While we are often critical of the medical profession, we have not seen many cases where doctors or hospitals treated people differently based on whether they had private health insurance.
One of the main benefits of having health insurance is that it gives people access to more regular preventive care from a regular family physician. People who do not have insurance often use the emergency room as their primary care doctor. This is expensive and inefficient. Also, people end up in the hands of doctors who do not really know their history or background. To prevent small medical conditions from becoming big medical problems, it is always better if a patient has access to a regular family doctor who knows them and can follow them over time. One of the main goals of expanding health insurance coverage in this country is to give more people access to a regular family physician.
There are some types of medical care where private health insurance does not matter at all because insurance is not going to pay for it any way. For example, some types of treatment which people may want, but do not necessarily need, are not covered by health insurance and, therefore, the patients are left to pay for things on their own. The most common example of this would be cosmetic surgery. Insurance policies usually do not cover that, and if people want this type of surgery they are generally going to have to pay for it out of their own pocket.