Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Health Care Challenge to Congress

Latest Newspaper Column:

It looks like the next big debate to heat up in Congress is going to be over health-care reform.

Part of the proposed solution involves what's known as the "public option": a government health-care plan that would be open to anyone. People and employers would still be free to buy private health insurance if they want.

But for some, the very idea of giving people the option to buy public health insurance evokes dire prophecies of doom. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal fumed that "like Medicare and Medicaid, the Obama Public Option in time will become an impossible fog for patients to navigate."

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint assures us that the public option will drive private insurers out of business: "Government never competes in a private market; it takes the market over." Honorable John McCain agreed, telling CNN: "Look, if we have a government option, then sooner or later ... it will crowd out private health insurance."

So let me get this straight. Publicly funded health care, even as an option, is poorly run, inefficient and will lead to rationing of health care -- but private health insurers can't compete with it? Tells you something about the state of private insurers, doesn't it?

By the way, when it comes to rationing of health care, I've got news for you: We have that now. It's just that the rationing is now done by insurance companies who decide whether treatments are too expensive and how long you're allowed to stay in the hospital. And of course, if you're uninsured, your health care is rationed even more severely: You've got the ER for when you collapse, but other than that -- too bad, you're out of luck.

But, you say, everybody knows that a system purporting to provide universal health care doesn't work. Just ask Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland. Except ... wait, all of those countries have something that wingnuts would decry as "socialized medicine." It's amazing there's anyone still alive there.

On the other hand, I saw a commercial from some health insurance company that said the socialized medicine system in Great Britain has some problems, so it must not work anywhere. We should probably just give up.

It's also ironic that the people who are most insistent that government-sponsored and government-run health care won't work are lawmakers who are themselves on a health-care plan paid for by taxpayers and run by the government, through the Office of Personnel Management. Their attitude seems to be, "Government health care for me and not for thee."

So here's my challenge, senators: You think private-sector health insurance is so keen, go off your congressional health plan. Go out there, with your government salary, ring up Blue Cross/Blue shield or CIGNA or Kaiser Permanente or whichever one you decide is more competitive. Try to get a price quote. Pray that you don't have something they'd regard as a "pre-existing condition."

Be very careful in filling out your health history, because as one former CIGNA exec put it this week, before Congress, under oath: "They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment."

In earlier testimony, executives from other health insurers refused to consider the idea that coverage should be dropped only for "willful and intentional" fraud and asserted their God-given right to drop coverage for the sickest Americans for even inadvertent or minor errors on their application.

So go ahead, senators. Buy your own "competitive" health-care plan for you, your families, and while we're at it, your staff. Then try to keep it if anyone gets sick.

I dare you.


Anonymous said...

I love it when someone around the office swears up and down that it's HORRIBLE, JUST HORRIBLE up in Canada, and that they're streaming across the border to get into our perfect American system.

That's funny. Every Canadian I even met thinks the American system is the dumbest thing they've ever seen. "Hey, that's quaint. We had something like that in the 1930's."

charlie stella said...

Great point, Dusty. You name a few Republicans up front, but unfortunately it'll be the majority Democrats who sink this one. It'll be interesting to hear the excuses offered ahead of all the health industry campaign contributions they received (along with the Reps owned by the same industry).

It is amazing how fast they've all caved in on "changing" anything, it seems.

I don't envy Obama having to deal with so many spineless SOB's in his own party. He should use his charisma and take it to the people. Maybe if their constituents light a fire under the collective complacent asses of our Congress/Senate, maybe some (at least in the majority) might see the light.

Then again, their constituents can never put up the bucks to get what they want like the health industry can.

Anonymous said...

The twist will be to see if all 100 of our glorious Senators, will be willing to forfeit their "congressional health plan" and go on the "public option" that this administration is so determined to quickly ramp through Congress.

If there is going to be a "public option,” I say all (union and non-union) Federal, State, and your local municipality employees will have this option and this option only. No more outlandish health care programs for these exalted “public servants.” -this is the one plan that the taxpayers are willing to pay for and we offer it to you like it is offered to everyone else. ..

JD Rhoades said...

Joseph, do you know what the word "option" means?

Anonymous said...

Let me make it clear for you. Gov't workers will have the Obama "Public Plan" (if you are not comfortable with the word "option")as their entitled Health Care program. Period.

No more sucking off the taypayer to provide them with gold plated health care plans. If us as taxpayers can't get them, servants for us shouldn't be entitled to them.

charlie stella said...

"servants" ... ouch. Maybe you should rethink that one, brother.

Or maybe we should have single payer so there's nothing implied ever again.

Wouldn't that be democratic? Everybody gets the same deal.

Imagine that? A democracy with equal something (at least) for all.

Ed Gorman said...

Yesterday Paul Krugman pointed out that the anti-public option forces are bullshitting us. There is virtually NO competition among insurers. For instance I live in a state where one company controls 71% of all health insurance. You aren't going to get lower prices that way. Today Senator Finestein said she won't left the complaints of "the left" change her mind. Apparently she'll vote against it. Log on to Talking Points Memo and scroll down for Josh Marshall's take on the public option. He exposes all the lies that (as Charlie Stella mentions) are being carried even by some dems--those who are bought and paid for by the insurance industry of course.

JD Rhoades said...

Well if, like me, you buy health insurance as an individual, the idea of competition is a joke, because they won't tell you how much it costs.

When we got our current policy, the drill was, submit an application and if they accepted us, THEN BCBS would send us a bill.

The policy I had before that, they demanded we send them a blank check. Not for them to fill in, but becuase they would only cover us by a direct draft from the bank account. We'd know were covered and how much it would cost when the money started coming out.

And of course, there's no way to compare service, unless you happen to know someone who has the same plan.

So this whole fetish for the idea of "competition" in health insurance is total bullshit from where I stand.

John McFetridge said...

Good article.

You could have listed some countries that DON'T have health care, the would be interesting too.

And as Ed points out, competition is a myth...