Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Three times in my life I have seen the country at odds over health care. The first was over the creation of Medicare, and it was a quiet storm compared to what’s going on today.

Today’s battle is epitomized by this anecdote from an article in the Washington Post that told of a health care town hall meeting in South Carolina where ‘a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to "keep your government hands off my Medicare."’ The Congressman tried to explain that Medicare is a government program, but heckler would not listen.

That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad, but it illustrates how successful the anti-insurance reform right wing has been in confusing their followers.

The argument isn’t really about health care reform at all. No matter what Washington does in the coming weeks, the kind of health care people get in this country won’t change. If it was about health care reform, the AMA wouldn’t be endorsing it because that would call for restructuring of physician and hospital incomes to European levels.

The Democrats are trying to take the power over and control of health care delivery out of the hands of the insurance industry. Given that we all are or know people who have gone without coverage due to cost or pre-existing conditions or been denied payment for services even if we have coverage, I can’t see why anyone including Tea Partiers wouldn’t want that.

The Republican counter-budget as written by Paul Ryan – R, Wisconsin contains their proposals, touted as the way to avoid “socialism” and a “government takeover of health care”. Here they are:
1. Significantly reduce benefits to anybody under 55 at the time of passage, and then privatize social security.
2. Replace Medicare with a system of vouchers for buying private health insurance.

Why in God’s name would I want to trade the Medicare I now have and which allows me to see primary care doctors for $10 a visit, specialist for $35 and hospital costs with a reasonable deductible for a voucher to get back into private insurance? That is insanity.

We have operated our own business for over twenty years during which I carried catastrophic insurance with a $5,000 deductible at a cost of about $3,000 a year. My wife couldn’t get that wonderful coverage because she had pre-existing conditions, so her catastrophic coverage – excluding those conditions – ran about $5,000 a year. Our average income over those years averaged below the $65,000 level, so on average about 12% of our gross income went to insurance we never used. Beyond that, if we had needed to use it, we might have found out, as several friends have, that our insurance would not pay for the services we needed.

I’m also pretty fond of my social security check, minimal as it is. I did my own saving for retirement, but social security is the hedge against loss of private investments in a shaky market. I wish they’d just expand Medicare and be done with it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Health Care Conundrum

Are you against a public option in health care because “government can’t do anything right”? If so, try this:

Walk into a senior citizen center and say, “Everybody who has Medicare and wishes they didn’t, raise your hand.” You’ll think everybody in there is an amputee.

Now go to a VA hospital and say, “I think the government ought to get out of the health care business. Raise your hand if you’ll sign this petition to stop funding the Veteran’s Administration.” The only hand you’re likely to see is some veteran’s just before it hits your nose.

Next, go to the Division of Family Services and say, “If you have Medicaid and wish you didn’t, raise your hand.” They’ll laugh you out of the place.

Let’s try another test. Drive to your nearest vehicle license bureau on a busy day. Walk in and say, “I’m sick of seeing my tax dollars spent on highways. How many of you will sign this petition to stop spending federal dollars to maintain the interstate highway system?” Or you could ask them to help you put a stop to state tax support for state roads. How many takers would you get?

Don’t like any of those tests? Try this one. Go to a library and ask for signatures on a petition to quit spending tax dollars on libraries, or ask the parents and teachers at any school to join your protest against using tax dollars to support education. Any takers? Not likely.

Here’s a question for YOU to answer. Be honest, now. Do you think tax dollars should be used for those purposes listed above?

If you said yes, then you don’t believe that the government can’t do anything right. Beyond that you don’t think there’s anything wrong with democratic socialism. That’s what pooling tax dollars for the common good is, and there is nothing wrong with it.

I know far too many people who are putting off health care until they can get Medicare. Not one of them is against a public option. They know that their private insurance won’t pay for the services they need, and they sure can’t afford to pay for it themselves.

Here’s the conundrum. How can people know something works and still condemn it? I know people who’d fight to keep their Medicare and/or VA coverage but won’t support making it available to everyone. If you fit that description, examine your conscience because you should be ashamed for not doing right by your neighbors.

The business of private health insurers is to prevent people from collecting on claims while administrators make huge salaries and the stock continues to rise. The business of public health insurers is to operate with less than 18% overhead while paying doctors for their services. Why would you choose the former if you could have the latter? It’s time we looked beyond the sound-bites and put some of our tax dollars to work getting the health care we need.