One of the most shameful methods the far right has attempted use to scotch attempts at meaningful health care reform is to cite the tremendous cost involved in offering a public option, and to suggest that it's not possible to pay for it. According to their twisted "logic," such as it is, health care will balloon the national debt and virtually bankrupt the country.
This is, of course, absurd. The fact of the matter is, you're already paying a hell of a lot of money for your health insurance, and it's actually a major contributing factor to our economic downturn. Not only that, but it's about to get worse. Think about this; of the people who are currently unemployed due to massive layoffs, how many of them do you imagine will be able to go back to their old jobs within the next year or two, and get their health insurance back intact?
No, the fact is, we're already paying for health care in this country. Nearly 80% of us have insurance, but the cost is very high. The average family health insurance premium is nearly $1,300 per month, or $15,000 per year. A huge number of people get their insurance through their employer, and only pay about 20% of the actual cost of that insurance. Therefore, many of those who pay the $250 per month or so for their insurance premiums think that's the total cost. They give no thought to the reality; that their employer is paying another $1000 on their behalf. And they don't do so because they don't see it.
But I wonder if they wouldn't like the $500 per month raise their employer could give them, should the cost of the health insurance benefit drop significantly over the next few years? Instead of the standard 3% pay increase the employer gives, imagine if they could give the best employees the 10% raise they so richly deserve? And besides, the cost of your health insurance premium isn't all you pay for health care, anyway. A portion of your car insurance goes to pay the medical bills for those who are in car accidents. Your homeowner's insurance bill includes coverage for medical bills, in case someone hurts himself on private properthy. And every worker in the country -- including those who are already paying $15,000 a year for their family's health insurance -- pays Medicare insurance, which is currently 2.9% -- you pay half and your employer pays half.
Think about that a moment. You're paying $15,000 a year for your family health insurance plan. You and your spouse both work, and make $100,000 between you; that's another $2,900. And probably a third of your car insurance and 20% of your homeowners insurance premium go to medical care. And if you go to the doctor, and have to buy prescriptions, you pay even more, what with all of the co-pays and deductibles. How much is too much, folks? And don't get me started on torts. Consider this; most lawsuits involving accident and injury have medical costs as one of their main components. If everyone had insurance, the number of necessary lawsuits would drop precipitously.
Right now, we spend more than any other country in the world on health care, and yet people are dying because they can't see a doctor, because they don't have any money in the bank. Others are forced into financial ruin because they happen to become sick or injured at a time when they have no money in the bank. How is that possible, if our system is as great as people say? How does a country spend more money than anyone else, and end up with a worse result? And how can we brag about having the best health care facilities in the world (we do have some of the best), and not hang our heads in shame at the reality that we have pockets of poverty in inner cities and rural areas where health statistics are comparable to sub-Saharan Africa?
It's because we think capitalism can solve every problem, and it can't. Health care can be a market-based activity, to a certain degree, but health insurance absolutely cannot. The problem with our health care system has nothing to do with doctors and nurses and health care delivery systems. It's all about the abject stupidity of having a health insurance system in which profit is the main motive. Yeah, I know; the largest insurer in the country is Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is theoretically non-profit, but have you seen how many executives they have, and the salaries and bonuses they pay them? They're non-profit in name only, folks.
Our health care delivery system makes money by providing the best health care available, and curing people. The health insurance system, however, works at cross purposes with the delivery system, because they make money by not paying for good outcomes. The only way for them to increase profits is to not pay for health care.
Yes, you read that right; doctors make money by doing their jobs to the best of their ability. They save lives, their reputation is sealed, and they can get top dollar for being the best at what they do. Compare that with the insurance companies, who make money by denying insurance to sick people and denying claims to the insured. Why would anyone in his right mind imagine such a system would work?
The clashes between the medical profession and the health insurance profession are legendary. Those of you who are daft enough to think you're covered because you have health insurance have obviously never had to actually use that insurance. Wait until you're sick and injured, and the insurance company denies your claim; you'll find you really don't have the coverage you think you do.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but most of the scary things the anti-reform slugs tell you will happen if we adopt a national health care system are already happening in spades, folks, and they all come courtesy of the private health insurance companies. Take the dreaded "health care rationing," for example. It's already a fact of life, as anyone who has ever been denied a claim for an "expensive" procedure already knows. Insurance companies routinely deny claims above certain dollar amounts, in the hopes that a certain number of people won't fight it. They invoke their "pre-existing condition" clause every chance they get, in order to get out of paying a claim, to the point that they pay investigators gobs of money to investigate medical backgrounds and determine whether or not a condition does "pre-exist." They already overrule medical decisions made by doctors, and routinely demand that medical professionals use less expensive treatments, even if said trained medical professional thinks the "cheaper" treatment is ill-advised. That's the definition of "rationing," folks.
Health care is a right, folks. If you show up in the emergency room or urgent care, at the very least doctors are required to diagnose you, and treat you if you need it, regardless of your ability to pay. But our health care financing system isn't built that way. As I said, the insurance companies don't cover anyone who might actually have to use the system, but that doesn't keep them out of the hospital. In fact, it gives the insurance company cover to raise premiums ever higher for those who have insurance.
See, this is how it works…
The insurance company refuses to cover Joe Blow because of his liver condition. His condition deteriorates, because he can't actually afford to see a doctor, until he's near death. His liver shuts down, and he's rushed to the hospital in an expensive ambulance, where he receives lots of expensive treatment in order to keep him alive, or at least comfortable. He dies in the hospital, and the hospital has $100,000 worth of expenses they'll never be paid for. There are a lot of such cases out there. Tons of people are effectively forbidden from paying into the insurance system, and then end up incurring more expense as a result of not having access to treatment until their life is threatened. Is that a smart system? We allow sick or injured people to stay sick or injured for a long, long time, and then we end up paying more for them in the end. This is not only immoral, but fiscally irresponsible.
But it's good for the insurance companies. You see, they do their damnedest to only take premiums from healthy people. Sure, the hospitals have to raise their prices, but for every dollar they increase their procedures, the insurance can increase premiums by a dollar and a half. Why do they care, since they won't have to pay for very many of those procedures, anyway, right? They'll lop off a few thousand more sick people to decrease their risk, and make even more money. And why don't more healthy people feel like suckers? $15,000 a year for health insurance, when you and the wife and the kiddies go to the doctor once a year each, and one kid has a little accident every year. Where does the other $14,000 go, do you think? It goes to pay higher prices, because your insurance company refuses to cover the sick people, and allow them to pay some of their own bills.
Everything that's happening right now is good for lining the pockets of the insurance companies , and does no good for anyone else. It will eventually be bad for the insurance companies, as well, but they're typically American corporations, who can't think beyond the current quarter. They couldn't care less about what might happen ten years from now
We do have an excellent health care system, when it comes to actual medicine. We have some of the best medical professionals in the world, and because of government investment, we also have some of the greatest medical technologies in the world. But if upwards of 50 million people have no access to medical care until they're deathly ill, what's the point? And if it can be fixed by changing the insurance system -- and it can -- then what are we waiting for? At the very least, covering everyone will stop the incredible inflation in the health care system, because it will mean that everyone is paying into the system and has coverage. That means medical companies will no longer have to write off unpaid bills. But it will also mean that people will be able to get treatment before a condition becomes chronic. It will mean no one will have to go into bankruptcy court or lose everything they've worked for because they became ill or injured at an inopportune time. It will mean the end of health care rationing, the end of bureaucrats coming between doctors and their patients, and it will mean predictability for health care costs going forward.
And to the naysayers, don’t tell me we can't do this; we're already paying for everything now; we're just doing it in a stupid way. And don't brag about our great system until we have the numbers to prove it. We're 37th in the world with regard to major health statistics, and we're the only country in the "civilized" world in which someone living near a hospital can die because of a lack of medical treatment. We're the only country in the "civilized" world in which someone can work for 30 years, build a life for themselves and their family, and lose everything because they fall ill. And we're the only country in the "civilized" world in which the amount of money you have determines whether or not you get treatment.
All of the countries we trade with on the world stage have at the very least a "public option" for their people, even if they don't have a full-on socialized medical system. We can't compete with that. And I don't see any of those countries giving up their system. I mean, if these systems are so bad, and cost so much to administer, then why haven't these countries dropped them, and taken up a market-based insurance system like ours?
By the way, do you know the one demographic group in our country that is competitive with other countries? It's those over 65. Do you think that's coincidence? They're the only demographic guaranteed basic health insurance coverage.
Any health insurance reform proposal that doesn't cover everyone with basic health insurance and access to basic health care is not only immoral, but it's stupid. Don't let Congress get away with any reform plan that doesn't include a public option, at a rate that everyone can afford. Eighty percent of Americans are already being taxed for health care; it's just that, currently, the taxes are lining the pockets of insurance companies.