It’s been amazing to see the nation engaging in thoughtful debate over the healthcare issue. What could have been a controversial issue that degenerated into a name-calling, special-interest-financed shouting match has actually been rationally discussed and debated by our politicians, pundits, and people. It’s been so refreshing to see the nation tackle this issue like responsible adults trying to find the best solution for a real problem… DOROTHY—WAKE UP!
Sorry if I sound a bit cynical, but We The People (the same as found in the Preamble to our Constitution) deserve better than we’re getting. Straight answers are as hard to come by as solutions to the South Florida python infestation. Like the python problem, however, doing nothing is not an option. Costs are spiraling out of control, a significant percentage of American citizens don’t get the care they need, and small businesses are worried about more costs in a down market.
Unfortunately, as stated before, no one can give us a straight answer. Insurance company lobbyists are discouraging real debate with scare tactics and abject lies that media outlets and politicians repeat verbatim. Instead of rational discussion, Town Hall meetings are degenerating into shouting matches. And no one can seem to tell us just how much any of these plans will cost and who’s going to pay for them.
Small business owners: how many of you are happy with your health insurance provider? Okay, I know many of us can’t afford to provide health coverage. We’ll just ask the question of those who actually do provide some sort of coverage. Are you happy with your insurance? And what it costs? I mean really, really happy? I didn’t think so.
And now, this question is for all the people who have coverage, whether provided by your employer or yourself. Are you happy with the costs? The deductible? Have you ever been denied care or a procedure? Have you ever been dropped by a company for whatever reason? Are you paying through the nose to keep your COBRA coverage after losing your job?
And one more question for those people who are working, sometimes multiple jobs just to stay afloat: do you believe that you’ll ever be able to afford health insurance? Do you have any pre-existing conditions? Are you prepared to declare bankruptcy if you ever get sick and need expensive care?
Employers have borne the cost of health coverage (as well as the cost of paying for the uninsured who go to emergency rooms for treatment). In recent years, they have paid escalating costs just to keep the same benefits (or even reduced benefits) for their employees. Yet insurance costs keep increasing much faster than inflation or the cost of living. And the insurance companies aren’t just insurance companies—they’re also a big part of the Wall Street investment industry. Wall Street doesn’t care how well the insurers care for the insured; they care only about the bottom line.
There’s a term in the health insurance industry—medical loss ratio—that determines an insurer’s profitability. In the early 1990s, 95 cents out of every dollar collected in insurance premiums was paid out as claims. In 2008, that figure had gone down to 80 cents on the dollar. By increasing premiums, increasing deductibles and co-pays, and dropping the not-as-healthy members, the insurance companies have seen their profits go through the roof. It’s no longer about making a fair profit based upon sound actuarial data—it’s about making as much as possible, people and employers be damned.
I don’t have any illusions about attempting to solve the problem in a less-than-1,000-word column in a small-town newspaper. Until We The People can actually have a rational debate about real solutions, until insurance companies, lobbyists, pundits, and politicians quit lying to the people, nothing will happen. And that’s what the insurance companies want the most. Meanwhile, small businesses and the uninsured keep getting screwed.
One of my favorite movie lines ever was spoken by Jack Nicholson, portraying Marine Col. Nathan Jessep in the film A Few Good Men. Being questioned on the witness stand, asked for the truth, Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth!” Well, We The People can handle the truth. If we could only find someone who will tell it.