My Friends, I’m deeply concerned.
The national discussion about health insurance reform has leapt the rails. Partisan name-calling has replaced rational discourse. Too many Americans are falling for the lies and misinformation being put forth by those who oppose this desperately needed change.
And, who opposes change? Insurance and pharmaceutical companies, for-profit hospital conglomerates and health care providers; all in all, the very entities that have the most to loose from fixing our broken system. So, they are pumping millions into ads and lobbying efforts in the hopes that they can put off the inevitable by preying on the vulnerability and fear of certain segments of our citizenry.
It’s the same divide-and-conquer tactic that pushed Prop 8 through in California. White conservatives (many of them Mormons from Utah) went into the inner cities and put the fear of God into blacks and Hispanics. Mormans (historically reluctant to allow people of color into their fold) convinced minorities that gay marriage somehow threatened the sanctity and morality of the institution itself.
In the health care debate, senior citizens have been targeted. Death panels, forced euthanasia, mandatory sex changes, federally funded abortions. All lies, all meant to frighten a huge part of the population into opposing reform.
Then there are those who just don’t believe in government: (a post on Facebook actually said, “I’d rather die than have the government involved in my health care.”) I wonder if the 28,000 Americans who actually do die needlessly every year because they don’t have health insurance would make that same choice.
If government is so bad, why do we support a military? Why do we have police departments and immigration officers? Without government, how would we have roads to drive on and speed limits for those roads? How could we be sure that our food was safe to eat; or that our children’s toys wouldn’t harm them; or that our money is secure in the bank; or that the fire truck would show up if our house erupted into flames? Could we walk down the street without being assaulted and robbed? (The great irony here is that many of the people carrying signs against government involvement in health care are covered by “socialized medicine” in the form of Medicare.)
Sixty percent of all foreclosures and bankruptcies in this country are due to catastrophic medical expenses. Many of these families and individuals have health insurance. In nations with government insurance, how many bankruptcies come from health-related expenses? Exactly zero percent. Most people who live under government insurance simply can’t fathom how any civilized nation could allow this to happen.
Question: Do you think a person or a family should lose their home or be forced into bankruptcy because of illness or injury?
Here’s the situation: Insurance companies are answerable to stockholders and boards of directors. So are hospital chains and pharmaceutical companies. These corporations exist for one purpose – to make a profit, and to increase their profits every single year. How do insurance providers boost their profits? By denying coverage to those with “pre-existing conditions,” dropping those whose health care becomes too costly, and eliminating anyone who changes employment or loses his or her job.
To be profitable, hospitals have to charge those who have insurance higher fees because uninsured patients are often unable to pay. Drug companies have a lot of R&D to pay for, yes. But then, once a medication is finally FDA approved, these manufacturers have to make up their enormous investments by dumping more cash into advertising (and giving away free samples and swag to doctors). Insurance companies and the prescripted pay through the nose so Pharma can beat that massive bottom line and make a profit.
So, when you get sick or have an unfortunate accident, every player essential to your recovery has to consider one factor first and foremost – how can we make money on this situation? How on earth can we ever expect to bring down costs and provide everybody with adequate care when increasing profit is the primary motive in our healing?
Question: Do you think it’s right that somebody should profit from your illness or misfortune?
According to the World Health Organization, France is rated #1 in the world for health care. The French spend approximately $2,500/yr per capita and have a longer life expectancy than we do Stateside. The US is rated #37, spends in excess of $5,000/yr per capita, and we don’t live as long as the French.
How does a single-payer system work so much more efficiently? First, of course, because profit has been removed from the equation. Without pressure from stockholders, without having to advertise and pay lobbyists, providers can get down to their basic task -- keeping people healthy. Secondly, in the US, for every physician practicing medicine, there are 30 insurance bureaucrats pushing paper. Administrative costs for private insurance companies amount to approximately 30%, while government systems seem to get the job done for less than 10%.
Think about it – in order for a for-profit insurance company to carry out its mandate, it has to deny coverage to a lot of people. It takes a lot of employees to do all that denying. So, that company has to spend more money to hire more people to deny more people coverage to save money. More payroll to provide less service. Wow! That’s what I call a double whammy!
So, if you’re worried about the government getting between you and your doctor, consider this – if you have private health insurance, you now have an army of bureaucrats deciding what the company will cover and what it won’t (and these jobs and bonuses all rely on not covering as much as they can get away with). I dare you to find a single example of a Medicare patient being turned down for a doctor-recommended procedure. Private insurers do that thousands of times every single day. And, they also limit your choice of doctors and prescription medications to their preferred list.
Question: Why is it that the vast majority of those who oppose government health insurance have never lived under such a system?
I thought it might be enlightening to find out how those who are living under government health insurance felt about it. So, I did my own poll on Facebook and the international songwriter site, Just Plain Folks. I asked for brief, candid, completely honest, first-person testimonials.
To a person, everyone who responded on line had positive, supportive and grateful things to say about their systems. Many of the responses came from folks who had lived both under a government-run system and in the US. No one claimed their country was perfect; some had gripes, but not a single person envied us here in the US. In fact, a number of people stated that the US could not call itself a civilized country until it chose to provide equal access to quality health care to every one of its citizens. The notion that health care is doled out according to one’s economic status is repugnant to most people who live under the bugaboo of “socialized medicine.”
I did get one totally negative response, via telephone, from a guy who was reluctant to get into “political” debates on line. This was a transplanted Canadian who shared a litany of bad experiences with doctors and hospitals north of the border. Most of his complaints, however, were the same ones we hear often in the states: inaccurate diagnoses, patients contracting infections in the hospital, outdated equipment, long waits for elective procedures. These anecdotes are not unique to Canada. What is unique to Canada (as compared to the US) is that doctor visits and services, hospital stays and operations cost nothing out of pocket -- and not a single person is ever forced into bankruptcy or foreclosure due to medical bills.
A study by the nonprofit, non-partisan RAND Corp. revealed the cost of NOT reforming our health insurance and health care delivery system. By 2018, insurance premiums will increase by 70%. And, the health care industry, which is now 16% of our national economy will balloon to 20%.
I don’t advocate using any particular country as a template for reform. But, being so late to the party, we are in a unique position: we can observe what works in other countries and what doesn’t. It’s a two-step process: First, we need to admit that reform is absolutely necessary now. Second: learn from the successes and failures of other nations and cobble together the best hybrid health care system possible.
I invite you to consider these thoughts and answer the above questions. And I welcome your comments.
Best to all,