We Can’t Fix the Economy Without Fixing Health Care

Here are a couple of questions to ponder…

If you’re an average American, you’re sitting in front of your computer reading this and simultaneously wondering if you’ll even have a job in a year or two. How does the prospect of health insurance premiums doubling by 2016 strike you?

And if you’re a business owner who’s now providing health insurance to his employees, how would you like to be paying double the current premiums by 2016?

I would also point out that this is a conservative estimate, made before the economy took a nosedive. Given some of the bills people are receiving in their mail these days, the problem may be more acute than we thought. On his program Wednesday, Ed Schultz told listeners that his health insurance had increased by  almost 20% over last year. At that rate, his insurance premiums would double by the time Obama's being inaugurated a second time.

A current report by the United States Public Interest Research Group estimates that, if something drastic isn’t done by the President and the current Congress, the cost of health insurance premiums will more than double betweeb 2006, when the average annual premium was $11,381, and 2016, when it estimates they will reach an estimated $24,281, even when adjusted for inflation.

Who the hell can afford that possibility, seriously?

How can a country that arguably has the best health care system in the world, and the best doctors in the world, be so absolutely boneheaded when it comes to financing the system? No one in their right mind would fund one industry using money from a competing industry, the mission of which is at absolute cross purposes with the industry needing the financing.

Think about it.

The main purpose of a health care delivery system is the delivery of quality health care and the saving of as many lives as is humanly possible with the means available. They save money by spending more time and resources on the front end, in order to spend less down the road.In short, doctors are more interested in preventive care, because it costs less than emergency care, and it's a better outcome for the patients.

The health insurance industry, on the other hand, has a different purpose. Its purpose is to collect as much money as possible, and spend as little as possible. Its only interest is the current fiscal year; it has absolutely no interest in the end product of the medical work, just the bottom line for that month, quarter or year. 

The result is a system that is absolutely immoral at its core.

Doctors try to make a good living, and most work as hard as they can to make sure we’re as healthy as we can be, but they have to beg and plead for the resources with which to do so. Hospitals are competing with each other AND the insurance companies for every dollar they can get their hands on, with the holder of that money trying to keep it from them with all of their might.

Haven’t we had enough of that crap? Seriously?

Look, folks, we’re hitting critical mass here, and it’s being accelerated with the current economic meltdown. In fact, I really don't see a way that we can recover without completely reforming the medical financing system. Just the financing system, by the way. The delivery system might need some minor tweaking, but it's the insurance system that is killing us, literally.

This is the system we've had for at least the last 30-40 years;

A group of people is left out of the system, and pays nothing into it. Some are unable to afford insurance themselves, or their employer is unable to buy it, or they just don’t think they need it. Others can afford it, but the insurance company refuses to sell them insurance. 

But if something bad happens, they’re all entitled to care, whether they have insurance or not. They are entitled to life saving care, and they are entitled to relief of extreme pain. Doctors and medical facilities are under an ethical and legal obligation to treat at certain times, such as when they walk in after their water broke, and a baby’s about to come out, or if a limb is hanging off, or when the cancer has metastasized and is ravaging the entire body.

Because medical corporations are also beholden to their creditors and others, they have to make up the money they spend somewhere, right? And almost all of their money comes from insurance, so they raise their prices the next year. In turn, insurance companies have to make money, so they raise premiums. Of course, the higher premiums go, the more people drop out of the system. The more people who are uninsured, the more the hospitals have to make up, and the higher the premiums have to go, and so on, and so on…

Are you getting the problem? The more people are forced to opt out of the insurance system, the more risk medical corporations have to take on, and the higher premiums will go. Essentially, those of you with insurance are paying larger and larger amounts for people without insurance. Critical mass will happen when so many people are left out of the system that medical corporations will be forced to go under, and insurance companies will have to either charge so much for premiums that no one can afford it, or limit care to the point that it doesn’t matter whether you have insurance or not.

And that time is coming sooner than you think. The study mentioned above was actually completed before the current economic mess reared its ugly head. Companies are laying off employees in record numbers, and presumably a lot of those people will end up uninsured. Many other companies will be forced to cancel health insurance coverage just to prevent mass layoffs, and to keep their financial heads above water. Basically, this already-serious problem is about to go into crisis mode, and we have absolutely nothing in place to solve it.

There are signs of crisis all over.

Just today, the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance estimated that more than 1 million Pennsylvanians have no health insurance.

The stimulus bill that passed the House last night would actually subsidize COBRA premiums for the unemployed. In other words, government will effectively be insuring millions more people than it does now, and lining the pockets of health insurance companies.

The Washington Post is reporting that it is becoming more common for premiums and co-pays to go much higher, while actual coverage is actually being reduced significantly.

And consider this; many of those people who are currently losing coverage have paid tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars into the system for many years. But if they lose their job, and can’t pay the $1,000 or more per month for the COBRA, they lose their coverage. In other words, they get no credit for the money they pay into the system over the years. In what way is that a fair system? How many people over the years have paid tons of money into the system for many years, and still be forced to sell their home and/or go into bankruptcy, should they fall ill? How many have paid into the system for 20 or more years, and are then denied coverage because they dared to use their insurance? And have you ever considered how many of those who are denied insurance coverage are having their health care paid by those who never get sick? There is so much lost equity in our system; money that lines the pockets of fat cats. Shouldn't as much of our health insurance money as possible go to health care?

We really have to do something about this, and do it immediately. And we can't afford to buy any of the arguments against a national health insurance program. The arguments are insipid.

My favorite is the scary “socialized medicine” language. That’s supposed to be scary, but it shouldn’t be. No one is talking about the entire medical system being socialized, just the payment system.And let’s face it; all insurance is socialism, anyway.

Think about what insurance is. A large group of people pay money into a pool, and those who need something take what they need from it. That’s insurance, in a nutshell. Now, how did Karl Marx define socialism? Oh, yeah; “F
rom each according to his abilities. To each according to his needs.”

All anyone is talking about here is providing basic health coverage for everyone, and making everyone pay for their share of that coverage.And, of course, creating a financing arm that is not at cross purposes with the main goal, which should be quality health care for everyone who needs it.

The other ridiculous argument against national health care; “the government screws up everything.”

Go to any doctor's office or hospital administrator and ask them which they prefer to deal with; private insurance companies or Medicare, and they’ll all agree. They’d rather deal with Medicare. But even if you don’t want the government to handle things, the only way a payment system can work is if one entity is paying all of the bills, and has roughly the same mission as the health care industry, which is to give the best care possible, and save as many lives as possible.

Here’s what we need to do. It doesn’t matter how we get there, but we need to get there.

  • We must establish one non-profit pool of money to pay for health care.
  • We must establish basic health care as a right, that all are entitled to.
  • Everyone should be paying into the system, at a rate indexed to his or her ability to pay.
  • There should be no loss of equity in the system.You can't lose
  • Costs should be controlled to a certain degree, and any system should include cooperation between competing entities with the intention of controlling costs. If a region performs two MRIs per day, it makes no sense to have six MRI machines in the region.
  • All patients should be able to go to any doctor at any time, based on said doctor's availability.
  • All doctor-patient decisions should be between doctor and patient, without interference from a third party, except in cases of obvious fraud.
  • Basic coverage should be just that. If a patient wants elective surgery, or medical treatment that is not necessary to maintain a decent quality of life, current health insurance providers can continue to offer such insurance if they choose, and charge whatever they want.

Mark my words, the health insurance crisis is real, and it’s been neglected for so long, fixing it has become critical to our recovery from this economic meltdown.There is no way companies can come back from this, and also continue to provide health insurance to their employees. It's not possible for new entrepreneurs to pay upwards of $2000 per month for health care for their employees, and still pay a decent wage and make a profit. And most of all, paying so much for health insurance will take money away from the economic recovery money. Right now, people are getting their health insurance bills. How far do you think $1000 in tax cuts and another $1000 in stimulus money will go once they realize they'll have to pay $200 a month more for health insurance?

We pay more than every other industrialized nation in the world for health care, and the burden is shared by the smallest percentage of people in any industrialized nation. When our health statistics are compiled, we are 37th in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In other words, our system is inefficient, costly, and it's making people sick, despite having a health care infrastructure that is in many ways the envy of the world.

Fix it. Fix it now. We can't afford to wait.

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