Age Nullification
Old and Tired of Ranting Against the Same Old, Same Old

Universal Healthcare is in the Air

category_bug_journal2.gif Due to poverty and Medicaid bungling, on 28 February, a 12-year-old boy died when an untreated dental problem led to a severe brain infection. An $80 tooth extraction could have prevented his death.

This happened in the United States of America where the chief executive of one of the top two private health providers, UnitedHealth, was paid an annual total of $10 million in salary and bonuses until he was forced to resign last October over a stock-option backdating scheme that would have given him $1 billion more in paper gains.

Forty-seven million - more than one-six of Americans - are without health coverage. It has been a long haul getting Americans to take this issue seriously, but they have at last come out of the woodwork. According to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll [pdf], 64 percent of the population now believe the federal government should guarantee health insurance for every American. Here are some other findings of the survey:

  • 89% are very or somewhat concerned about their future healthcare costs
  • 60% of those without insurance report that someone in their household has gone without care because of the cost
  • 47% say a government-run system of universal healthcare would be better than the current private system with many uninsured (38%)
  • Almost 80% say universal health coverage is more important than extending the Bush tax cuts
  • 60% would be willing to pay more in taxes to ensure universal healthcare

President Bush's solution to the healthcare crisis is a tax deduction for people to buy private insurance. California Governor Arnold Schwarznegger would force employers to provide coverage or pay into a fund. And presidential contender, former North Carolina senator John Edwards has put forth a similar nationwide plan. All involve retaining for-profit insurers which would effectively expand their customer base creating more profits and, presumably, even higher salaries for executives.

Phil Mattera, in an informative and clear overview of America's health insurance industry at alternet.org, writes of the top-tier health insurers (UnitedHealth, Wellpoint Inc., Aetna, Humana, Cigna and Health Net):

"...the big carriers simply accumulate more power over healthcare providers and patients, using it to their own advantage.

"While millions remain uninsured or underinsured, the industry's profits swell. Last year, the top six health insurance companies had combined profits of more than $10 billion. What's amazing is that they netted so much after spending prodigious amounts on marketing and administration.

"In 2006 Wellpoint alone burned up nearly $9 billion in such costs - nearly one-quarter of what it paid out in actual benefits. By contrast, in Canada's government-run single-payer system, administration accounts for only about 3 percent of total costs."

Obviously, with a single-payer system (universal coverage), there is no need for either marketing or profits. It will cost us all more in taxes to cover everyone, but it won't be as much as people are spending now and no one will go without treatment or, if it is done right, without preventive care.

There is one other important point about the disgrace of America's for-profit health insurance system that Mr. Mattera makes in his alternet piece:

"...the fundamental conflict in the industry [is] the clash between maximizing gains for executives and shareholders, and the need of its customers for services that are often a matter of life and death. Public officials should abandon the mission of saving commercial insurance and devote themselves instead to creating a healthcare system that substitutes the public interest for private profit." [emphasis added]

Many years ago, I had a dentist with a mordant sense of humor who said, "Nobody ever died of teeth."€ Now we know differently. It will do everyone who has been wakened to the healthcare crisis good, as we follow the weeding out process of presidential contenders in the coming months, to keep in mind that 12-year-boy in Maryland who died needlessly of teeth.


Comments

Amen!
The way America treats it's legitimate, average working citizens is shameful. Why aren't there interest groups and lobbyists for those who keep the country going? Maybe because we're too busy working to spend time protecting ourselves?

Yeah, I still have issues with Edwards' plan to initiate his program in competition with the financial investment companies such as Aetna, BCBS, CIGNA and United. His people say there's too much money in the insurance lobby to sell it without cutting them in for a piece, but I hate it.

AQ: The government has had no trouble enacting policies that have eliminated millions of factory, agriculture and technology jobs. A single-payer healthcare system will benefit far more people than those whose jobs are eliminated and anyway, tens of thousands of them would be needed to run the government program.

When do we march?

Who's bringing the banners?

Can I help paint?

Excellent post, Ronni. Let's hope lots of folks listen.

And vote.

Every American should have a good, affordable health insurance.

"...[G]ood affordable health insurance..." seems almost like an oxymoron to me, with the profits that the insurance companies make and the incentives they have to deny care. I would much rather see us work towards "good affordable health care" for everyone in this country. It's time to quit wasting money and resources on health "insurance" and put a single payer health care system into place in this country that actually takes care of people's healthcare needs.

I think everyone should be covered, and there should be a single payer system. But how do we avoid the problems that can accompany that? I know Canadians who come to the states for procedures they would have to wait many months for in Canada. Others pay extra privately for services which has created, in effect, a two-tier system.

Great post! I'm still mad at AARP for their support of the drug benefit legislation that was a total giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry.

My husband and I are uninsured. He is self-employed and we cannot get health insurance that covers our pre-existing conditions (diabetes, asthma, gout, etc.) Our medications cost us about $600 a month, and regular doctor's visits are routinely about $200 a month. We cannot afford another $800 a month for a policy which won't cover any of those costs or the future costs that will come because of these conditions.

I recently had a bout of post-menopausal bleeding. I went to the doctor and as part of the exam she did a "routine" endometrial biopsy. I asked how much this would be and she didn't know, but said it was important to do. I got the bill a few days later for $200, on top of the office visit. The lab bill was $100 extra.

When she called to say the biopsy was fine, she wanted to schedule me for an untrasound to check for fibroids. I asked how much. No one in the office knew. I asked the untrasound people, the people at the desk, and the billing people and nobody could tell me how much it would cost!! At that one clinic they do 4 ultrasounds an hour and they were booked ahead for two weeks. All these people getting ultrasounds, and nobody knows what they cost!! Why? Because insurance pays.
Not people. Insurance. But of course it's people who really pay. I will really pay.

I finally found someone who could tell me that the cost "varies." Why? Would the average person take their car in for repairs and let the mechanics run every single check and test at random without even asking the cost? Wouldn't it be responsible to ask for an estimate before giving someone a blank check?

I asked the doctor if the ultrasound was really necessary. She said that I could stop taking my hormones, and if the problem ceased to exist, I probably didn't need an ultrasound. That suggestion worked and I saved $1000.

I could ramble on about my experiences as an uninsured person ad nauseam, but then I'd need some Rx which wouldn't be covered by insurance. I don't know the solution, but I want one.

I think everybody should have everything.

That aside, any ideas how this will be paid for?

(Not by squeezing the inefficiencies out of the system-- I am in the business and it is just not there.) So, the question is—who gets to pay for this?

Ronni,
Let me add another example to the need to change our health care system. I spoke to a pediatric oncologist recently who told me that the 80% of kids who survive cancer are fast becoming a caste of "medical untouchables." Their parents stay in dead-end jobs because they couldn't go to work for smaller companies where their child's care would increase rates. As the kids become adults and go into the work world, the doctor advises them to go to work for a government agency or large company that can "afford" them. This just doesn't make any sense.
Ronni, you are doing great work on this issue. Keep it up!

Fred

Thank you for the wonderful post and I am taking the liberty of forwarding it to some naysayers. As for the Canadians getting poor care, I would like to have first hand documentation as to their waits for medical care. I think some of these stories are urban ledgends. I mentioned before that I personally know two Canadians and they are both very satisfied with their health coverage. One couple wanted to move to my sunny area but were reluctant to give up their Canadian health care because they were so happy with it.

The sad story about the little boy was on TV and it is undoubtedly the tip of the ice burg. How many die without knowing they could have been saved with proper health care? It bears repeating to those who wonder how it will be paid for, that the U. S. spends more on health care per capita than any other industrialized country. It can be paid for by cutting out the wasteful money the insurance companies charge Medicare and Medicaid. Elimination of the Insurance companies would also eliminate poor management. And if there isn't enough money, the tax cuts should expire. (They should anyhow.) I could run on ad- nauseam, but I know you get the picture.

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