HEALTH POLITICS - When I was a lad and went to school … I had insurance, so I was cool … If I got hurt I’d go to see … The person in the in-firm-ar-ee.
But, that was back in my college days in the 60s. Back then, also, I had backup insurance because my parents, like many others, had good insurance plans through their union jobs. My dad was a Teamster truck driver, my mom taught elementary school; but, that’s a story for another time.
Not to crank the Nostalgia Wheel too hard, but the health insurance available to college students now is ‘way different than it was then. Just like the health insurance available to working folks is ‘way different. Both, unfortunately, have fallen victim to the morass of higher premiums with steeper co-pays paid for less coverage.
And, since we’re talking about college, it must be time for a quiz. But this one’s simple: all True-False questions, no penalty for guessing.
Heath Care Quiz
- Medical bills contribute to half of all personal bankruptcies.
- Medicare costs are far higher than private insurance carrier costs.
- Military members and their families have no problems with medical insurance.
- Except for Medicare, America’s health care system is paid for with private money.
- Immigrants and Emergency Room visits by uninsured people are responsible for the high cost of medical care in America.
- Over 40,000 deaths annually are associated with lack of health insurance.
- Competition among investor-owned, for-profit entities has lowered costs and improved quality in the US.
- With a single-payer system, the US could save enough on administrative costs to cover all of the uninsured.
- The American Medical Association is a professional standards organization that most doctors belong to.
- Obama Care (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) is a sophisticated form of single-payer insurance coverage.
Done? OK. Number 6 and Number 8 are True; the others are False. More complete answers below.
So, here we sit, caught up in a bitter and long-running brawl between those who want better health coverage, and those who seem to just want to pad their profits. Referring to the American Health Care System as an entity is misleading, since it’s really hundreds of companies and plans. This, naturally, creates a whole industry just to process the different billing systems, with the extra financial costs that go along with it.
One party in this melee is any Federal or State government or representative thereof who dares to speak for those of us down here on the pick-and-shovel level; those of us who sit precariously, just one bad day away from being financially ruined by catastrophic medical bills.
Another party is Physicians for a National Health Program, headquartered in Chicago. This is a group of doctors who advocate a National, single-payer healthcare system. They sponsored H.R. 676 in Congress, a bill to establish a national, single-payer health care system.
SIDEBAR: Single payer is not single supplier. Screams and rants from the media and others about being forced into or out of a particular physician’s care come from ignorance about how the plans work, or are simple felonious assaults on the truth from the AMA and its minions. With single payer you can go to any doctor you want. The bills all go to one place.
Which leads us to the American Medical Association, the other party in the melee. Most of us just sort of assumed it was a professional standards group. As in, somebody who was mostly interested in our health and well being and in supplying us with trained and motivated doctors.
Not so, as it turns out. The AMA seems to be mostly motivated to keep doctor fees up and boost profits for pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
And it has been since the 1930s, when it told its members not to have anything to do with the fledgling health maintenance organizations that were starting up. This led to the AMA being convicted of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1943.
The AMA stepped up its game, though, in 1945 when it spent $3 million of its members’ money (about $40 million today) and five years making sure President Harry Truman’s reform plans (structured very much like President Obama’s reform plans) were never signed into law. The term “Socialized Medicine,” still used, was coined for this campaign by the AMA’s PR firm, Whitaker and Baxter, and first uttered by Ronald Reagan, who’d been hired by the AMA to appear in an anti-Medicare film.
And, the AMA is still spending lavishly to block any meaningful changes in the way we get our healthcare: over $15 million just in the 2012 election cycle.
So, what about us? We’re stuck with a system (although there isn’t much about it that’s systematic) where 30,000 infants die each year while U.S. health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 percent during 2009 alone.
Where wages increase by less than 4% over the last few years, but health care premiums increased by 87%; where America’s five biggest for-profit health insurance companies ended 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion; where more than two dozen pharmaceutical companies each made over a billion dollars in profits in 2008, and the top executives at the five largest for-profit health insurance companies in the United States received nearly $200 million in total compensation during 2009 alone.
Where tens of thousands of American families are forced into bankruptcy each year by medical bills, only to find that the Bush Administration has made it more difficult to file for bankruptcy.
Obama Care isn’t the best answer we could come up with, but it’s light-years better than what we have.
However there is a ray of hope for those of who need healthcare coverage but are not fabulously wealthy: inmates in the American prison systems get top-tier care at no charge.
But if this path doesn’t appeal to you, then we’re basically stuck with the advice that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) gave in a speech on the floor of the House: “Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.”
And, really, is the mess we have the best we can do?
Answers to the Quiz
- Technically, FALSE. It’s about 62%
- FALSE. Medicare operates with 3% overhead (by law). Non-profit insurance (like Kaiser Permanente) has a 16% overhead. Private insurance (like Blue Cross or Aetna) has a higher overhead, at 26-33%.
- FALSE. 20% of all bankruptcies filed by veterans, active duty service persons, or their families are for medical bills.
- FALSE. 60 percent is paid by taxes. This includes tax subsidies for private insurance (costing the Federal treasury over $180 billion annually); and Government purchases of private health insurance for public employees such as firefighters, police officers, and teachers (over $120 billion annually). In 2005 this was just under 25% of the total spending by US employers for private insurance.
- FALSE. The main reasons are inefficiencies.
- TRUE. About $350 billion annually.
- FALSE. The AMA is primarily a lobbying group focused on keeping incomes up for physicians and insurance companies. Only about 15% of American doctors (217,490 of approximately 954,000 practicing physicians) belong to it.
- FALSE. Its main focus is on regulating the health insurance industry and reducing spending in health care. Nothing about single payer.
(John MacMurray is a retired La Habra teacher and former Democratic candidate for State Assembly. He blogs at LAProgressive.com where this column was first posted.)
Vol 11 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2013