By Lynn Paris
Or maybe I’m just losing my mind. I’ve never even considered writing three consecutive columns on a single issue before, but I also can’t remember a time when there was so much faulty wiring short-circuiting the brains of otherwise intelligent people, so much false information being disseminated by otherwise honest people, or so much vitriol spewing forth from otherwise good people.
So, once again, I beseech those whose knowledge of the pending health care reform bill* seems entirely based on what they read on conservative blogs or hear from right-wing talk show hosts, to simply READ THE BILL! If you merely skim the darn thing, you can’t help but realize that every time you talk or write about “single payer, universal health care” that you are NOT describing this bill, which has nothing to do with a single payer or universal health care. And, even though it might be warm and fuzzy to join the ranks of every other industrialized nation by providing free universal health care to all of our citizens, the bill in question does NOT offer that option. (And by the way, here’s something I have never understood. A large percentage of hard core conservatives are also devout Christians. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. So why wouldn’t Christians want to follow Jesus’ very precise teachings about caring for the least among us? There’s probably a good reason—like not mixing politics with religion on this particular issue—but I don’t get it.)
What the bill proposes to do, instead, is to “provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending…” Now, I completely understand that if you’re a true conservative you have an ideological problem with anything that might involve bigger government, bigger deficits (Ronald Reagan notwithstanding), higher taxes on the rich, or helping those less fortunate than yourselves. But check out the wording. It says “affordable,” not free. So stay calm; no one is giving anything away. It also says “quality,” which means that certain standards of quality must be established. If you honestly believe that quality means losing your health insurance when you need it most—when you get cancer or require dialysis—then you should definitely oppose any attempts at reform.
Oh, and by the way, some have quibbled over the difference between health care and health insurance, as though one could be separated from the other in this country. Of course, these are the same people who claim that no one in this country is denied health care. Technically, and I really mean technically, they are correct. If you are in dire need of immediate medical attention you can always go to a (dwindling number of) county emergency rooms or clinics and not be turned away. Unless you are below poverty level, however, you’ll still get billed for those services, and hounded to death to pay for them, costing millions of dollars in administration. And, treatment in emergency rooms for those who use them as a last resort adds tens of billions of dollars to the nation's medical tab that the rest of us pay for anyway.
So, you are not denied health care . . . technically. Of course, had you been given access to routine check-ups or preventive care, you might never have ended up in an emergency room. I’m sorry, but to me that means millions of people are denied health care. Unless they can afford to pay exorbitant fees for services rendered, or outrageous prices for health insurance, they are denied health care! To believe anything else means that you have been protected in the cocoon of a corporate, union, or government health insurance plan for so long (like Halliburton, or SAG, or NARA, or the state of Texas, or the U.S. Congress) that you have no clue what the real world is like. As long as you and yours are insured, why care about anyone else.
Of course, jobs can be lost. Situations can change. But until they do, and you have to face the problem of obtaining health insurance, or receiving quality health care—whichever you prefer to call it—you just can’t empathize. On the other hand, I don’t have to look beyond my own family to understand how the current system works, or to see that it’s broken. Make no mistake; it’s worked quite well for all of us during the times we were covered by a large group plan. But it’s made it impossible for each of us at those times in our lives when we were not. Just TRY qualifying for individual coverage if you have ANY pre-existing conditions. Just TRY affording health insurance for your spouse and children if you’ve been laid off.
The conservatives tell us that they aren’t against reform; they just don’t like this reform. So I see phrases tossed around like “reduce the reliance on third-party payers” and “get rid of public policies that hinder entrepreneurship and innovation.” I’m not sure what that means. Does it mean eliminate insurance companies so all of us can negotiate directly with physicians and hospitals until we find the best value, because doctors and hospitals are given real incentives (how and by whom) to provide quality care at competitive, affordable prices? Does it mean that all the citizens of this country will be able to afford at least a basic standard of health care? Does it force insurance companies to be competitive by curbing their current ‘traded-on-Wall Street, need-to-show-profit-to-please-their-wealthy-investors, rewarded-with-high-stock-value-if they-keep-medical-loss-ratios-low’ policies?** Because I’d be all over that.
All I ask of the naysayers is that you take the time to stop hurling invectives at Obama and the new liberals (as opposed to what—old liberals?) long enough to come up with a feasible alternative and I’m all ears. I might even like YOUR plan better. Until then, our current system is scarier than all your fear-mongering, and those of us fortunate enough to have health insurance are still stuck with a corporate bureaucrat motivated by greed standing between us and our doctors.
*For the sake of this column I’m referring to the House bill
**Medical loss ratios are the difference between what is actually spent on medical care, and what, for private insurance companies, goes toward advertising, public relations and profit. In the early 1990s, the medical loss ratios were around 95% (spent on medical care). Currently, they are between 75 and 83%. Bigger profits make happy investors.