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The Nevada state seal hangs inside the Legislature on Monday, March 15, 2021 in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Not long ago, a family walked into one of our exam rooms. 

The parents were very concerned. They did not have health insurance and could no longer afford their child’s asthma medication. They didn’t know what they would do if his symptoms returned and they were without an inhaler.

We’ve also been noticing kids aren’t coming in for routine immunizations because, as we later find out, their parents lost their jobs — and the health care coverage  that came with it.

And people with mental illnesses worry about staying stable and maintaining their jobs or taking care of their kids if they cannot afford to stay in treatment or buy the medications they need.

No one in Nevada should have to choose between feeding their family and staying alive. As human beings, we cannot imagine the gut-wrenching decision that these patients face. As physicians, we are outraged that health care costs continue to skyrocket out of control, pricing too many Nevadans out of seeing a doctor or getting life-saving medications.

The families harmed most because health care is too expensive range from rural low-income Nevadans to Black, Latino-Hispanic, Native Americans and others who’ve fallen through the large cracks in our system. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases and other comorbidities disproportionately sicken these individuals who’ve had less access to comprehensive care along the way. Those same chronic diseases that are going unmanaged and untreated now make them more likely to get hospitalized and die during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And even young, healthy, working Nevadans find themselves unable to afford health insurance if they earn too much to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act but not enough to afford the full premiums. 

As the pandemic exposed more gaps in our broken health care system, Nevada policy makers have an opportunity to lead the nation — by expanding health care for all Nevadans through the Nevada Public Option that allows residents to buy affordable coverage, while pushing private insurance corporations to lower premiums.

The time to act is now. Nevada has one of the nation’s highest rates of people without health insurance, at 14 percent. Latino-Hispanic Nevadans make up nearly 60 percent of those who are uninsured, even though they are 36 percent of the state’s population.

And costs are only going up.

Health insurance corporations and large drug makers are doing better than ever. Premiums for health insurance continue to increase faster than wages and inflation. In 2020, the costs of 500 prescription drugs doubled the inflation rate. Outcomes are not improving even as health care becomes more expensive and unaffordable for Americans, who spend more than our peers in other developed nations, yet live shorter lives.

With a public option, people who would otherwise let illnesses go untreated could see a doctor, buy medications and manage chronic conditions. From our experience as physicians, we see every day how being able to stay healthy directly translates to being able to work and give back to society. Healthier people live more productive, fuller lives. They can better care for themselves and their families.

Nevada can do better amid the current health crisis and every subsequent one by implementing the public option so every Nevadan has quality, affordable health care.

Dr. Philip Malinas is a psychiatrist in Reno. Dr. Randi Lampert is a pediatrician in Las Vegas. 

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