Fixing our broken health care system
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
There’s an oft-quoted saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But it is “broke,” and needs fixing. It seems incapable of providing health care at a price the country can afford. So in what ways is it failing, and what needs to be done about it?
According to government figures, nearly 50 million Americans are without adequate health care coverage. You can argue with this statistic, pointing that there are many (mostly young and single) who feel they don’t need it, but the fact remains that probably half of the uninsured can’t afford it, and that number is rising as more people are losing their jobs in this recession. Fully half of personal bankruptcies are the result of medical costs people can’t pay.
For decades, it has been common for employers to underwrite the cost of group health plans for their employees, but they can no longer afford to and be competitive in a world economy in which, in most industrialized countries, health care is provided by the government. We’ve got to take this burden off the backs of American businesses.
We claim to have the “best medical care in the world.” We certainly have the most expensive, by far. Yet many other countries have longer life expectancies and lower child mortality rates than the U.S. Why is health care so much more costly in the U.S.? A large part of the cause is the health care insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The health care insurance companies impose an added tier of cost on top of the true cost of medical care, to create the enormous profits that pay large stockholder dividends, huge executive salaries and bonuses, costly advertising competing with one another, and to support an enormous lobbying and political campaign contribution budget and bloated staff. The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries pay out half a billion dollars a year on lobbyists and campaign contributions. And the top-heavy administration staffs of the insurance companies are busy screening applications, denying coverage and canceling policies (they want to insure the healthy) and contesting payment of claims. Eliminating all of this unnecessary “surcharge” on our health care costs would reduce those by 25-30 percent.
There are additional serious shortcomings in the way the preset system works. Lose your job and you lose coverage. Change jobs and you are likely to lose your coverage. File a claim for an illness, accident or surgery and your policy may be canceled. You are also constantly hearing about people’s battles with insurance companies to get approval for doctor-prescribed medical procedures, or to get full payment or incurred medical expenses. And the millions of uninsured who resort to emergency rooms for their routine health care (because it is free) are adding $45 billion per year to our health care costs.
Sixty percent of the American public favors a single-payer health care plan to eliminate these unnecessary costs but had to fight to get any representation at the Senate Finance Committee health care plan hearings, to which health insurance and pharmaceutical industry representatives had been invited en masse. When questioned about why a single-player plan was not included, Chairman Max Baucas, after an embarrassing silence, responded that it would be “politically unfeasible.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like “We’ve already been bought?” (More about that later).
In the fight ahead, you can expect the industry to come out with the same old “Harry and Louise” commercials claiming a single-payer plan would produce “rationing, delays, and denial of health care, and putting a bureaucracy between you and your physician,” none of which is true (but is true of some present HMO plans).
Under a true single-payer plan, families would pay a specified amount into a medical fund, people and their physicians would select their medical treatment and the fund would pay the bills (without a middle man). This would not be “socialized medicine,” because the government would play no part in medical decisions.
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Monday in the Post Independent.
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