A New York Times reporter introduced us last week to Tammy Yancey, a $9.50-an-hour gas station attendant for Sam's Club in Pinellas Park, Fla.
Walmart, which also operates Sam's Club, had just announced sweeping health insurance cuts and premium increases for its one million employees.
Those increases included a steep penalty for employees who smoke.
Yancey, a smoker who earns $12,000 a year, would see her annual health insurance premiums more than double to $3,325, about a quarter of her income.
"I really can't go without insurance," she told the Times, "because I have a heart problem.
Yancey epitomizes the rapidly emerging health care crisis in the U.S.:
* A nation of people who cannot or will not take common-sense measures to protect their own health;
* Employers who are increasingly unwilling or unable to foot the bill for ever-more-expensive health care; and
* State and federal governments increasingly swamped in medical bills for the sickest people, the poor and the elderly.
The result is a health-care system that is, in the words of a leading health policy research foundation, lagging further and further behind other industrialized nations in quality, efficiency and access to care.
The Commonwealth Fund reported last week that Americans are far more likely to die than the citizens of other countries from preventable or treatable conditions: bacterial infections, screenable cancers, diabetes and complications from surgery.
The U.S. recorded 96 preventable deaths per 100,000 people in 2006-2007. France, meanwhile, reported 55.
In important areas like controlling blood sugar in diabetes patients, newborn mortality and childhood obesity, the U.S. continues to trail other national systems.
And the situation has likely worsened since then. In 2010, 81 million Americans were either uninsured or underinsured at some point in the year. That's up from 65 million in 2003.
"The U.S. ranks last out of 16 industrialized countries on a measure of mortality amenable to medical care," according to the report.
The lamentable conclusion: "As many as 91,000 fewer people would die prematurely if the U.S. could achieve the leading country rate."
Except for improvement in a few select areas, like hospital-acquired infections, the U.S. is going in the wrong direction.
In Texas, for instance, more than 25 percent of its citizens are now uninsured. A third of its children did not receive an annual physical or a teeth cleaning in 2007. One in five senior citizens ends up back in the hospital within a month after a major procedure.
By almost any measure, this system is broken. Meanwhile, the only significant attempt to change that picture, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court by 23 states.
And in an election year, there seems to be little interest in revisiting the issue.
In another two years, will we be even further behind other similar countries?
There's little to indicate otherwise.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.