The health care quagmire |

The health care quagmire

Hal Sundin
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As I See It

Just over a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court surprised the country by ruling 5-4 that the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Health Care Act, also called Obamacare, requiring uninsured Americans to buy health care insurance or pay a tax (penalty) is constitutional, thereby saving the act from the trash can. But what has been saved?

The act does include several widely popular provisions, such as extending coverage on their parents’ policies for young adults to age 26, disallowing denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and prohibiting lifetime dollar limits on coverage. It is the individual mandate that is its most unpopular feature, and there are valid reasons for that unpopularity.

So why was the individual mandate made a part of the act? Why isn’t the act a true universal health care plan, like most other industrial nations provide for their people – a single-payer plan, administered by the government and covering everyone? We already have a perfect example – called Medicare – which has successfully provided government administered health care for nearly everyone age 65 or older since 1965.

Yet whenever there is an attempt to provide a similar plan to cover the rest of the population, the cry “socialized medicine” goes up. (And ironically, the recipients of Medicare are some of the loudest voices being raised against providing everyone else with a health care plan similar to the one they love.)

It is a mystery why the American public is so dead-set against a universal single-payer health care plan under which their health care costs would be covered like Medicare. Or is it? A little history is enlightening.

In 2009, the Senate Finance Committee, under Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., held hearings on health care reform. Invited to testify were representatives of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, the hospitals and the physicians, none really favoring a single-payer plan. When asked why the single-payer plan was not on the table, after a noticeable pause Chairman Baucus responded to the effect, “Because it would be impractical.” Translation: Congress has already been bought by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, which don’t want a single-payer plan.

And why should they? It would mean an end to their high profits, which pay high executive salaries and large stockholder dividends, and which coupled with huge administrative costs add an estimated 30 percent to our health care costs.

What we ended up with is a monstrosity cobbled together to include the individual mandate to satisfy the health insurance industry. Forcing millions of people to buy health insurance is a windfall for the industry: Witness the rise in the price of their stocks.

We have been hearing loud cries that our income tax structure is anti-business, and that rates should be reduced to create more jobs. But what about the expense that businesses incur to cover all or part of the cost of health insurance for employees? This cost, which amounts to several thousand dollars per employee, puts American businesses at a competitive disadvantage with foreign companies, which are relieved of this burden because their governments provide health care.

It is also a job killer because American businesses are reluctant to hire new workers, each of whom would raise their health care cost.

A single-payer, government-administered health insurance plan would have two major advantages over what we now have; it would produce a 25 percent reduction in the cost of health care, and would take the cost of providing health insurance off the backs of American businesses and consequently be a job creator.

Fareed Zakaria, a highly respected commentator, has written that although he is a big fan of the free market, when it comes to health care, the free market doesn’t work. That is why, he states, so many rich countries in the world have decided that all of their citizens should have access to basic health care, and that their single-payer systems “provide universal health care at much, much lower costs than we do.”

Dr. Arnold Relman, a long-time voice for a logical and ethical health care system – Medicare for all – has stated that a complete overhaul of the system, although counter to powerful financial interests, is inevitable because in the long run, nothing else will work.

Winston Churchill commented wryly that Americans will exhaust every other possibility before they finally get it right. It is time to discard the false bogeyman of socialized medicine that we have been fed, and work toward a single-payer health care system.

“As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at

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