The healthcare debate in this country is the epitome of why things are not working in America and why things are going downhill very quickly. It is the classic example of everyone taking positions, not discussing common ground and not coming to a conclusion that is both good for the country and its residents. Add to that the pure politics that intertwines every single opinion and debate and you finish up with a complete mess with facts and figures being thrown around that mean nothing to anyone except for the politicians who are trying to get (re) elected.
The healthcare problem is that we are trying to fix a system that is not working, is overly expensive with unsustainable rate increases, is extremely selective in who gets care, ignores preventive alternatives and is big business for both the drug companies, the surgeons and the lawyers. This means that any change, where these players have any influence at all, will keep all the negatives in the system that make them wealthy – which is the very reason we are seeking change in the first place.
Let’s deal with the politics first. The Republicans want to keep the status quo and even extend it so insurance companies also take over Medicare and Medicaid. The Democrats want to create a government-run alternative to keep the insurance companies in check with competition and make healthcare available for everyone, rich, poor and broke. So why not give the people a choice? Offer a public AND a private alternative. I thought that was what democracy was all about?
If the government, as most GOP politicians claim, is very inefficient and provides poor service, what are the insurance companies and their cronies afraid of? Every other western economy we compete against has a government-run healthcare plan as well as a private option. The way it is implemented is different from one place to another but in every case the consumer has a choice. Why not here?
Let me ask the question another way. The United States already has one of, if not the, biggest government-run healthcare system in the world. If we add all government employees, Medicare/Medicaid, and the VA system together, it amounts to more than 40 million people. Why not extend these benefits for everyone? When I listen to all those GOP politicians bashing any form of government-run program, my skin starts to creep. They are all on one of the best government-run programs in the world. This is the pinnacle of hypocrisy. They should all be required to relinquish their coverage and all go buy private insurance to experience what we experience.
One of the mistakes that Barack Obama made in this first term as President was not to present his own plan. He threw the ball to Congress and the Senate to come up with a solution. That’s when all the bickering started. In my view he should have created a Medicare alternative for everyone. Medicare Part E. The advantage would be that the structure of this already exists and the administrative overhead is less than 5%, much lower than private insurers.
The problem is that Medicare currently only takes care of the aging population, which is more prone to sickness, and it has to carry this burden. A larger number of younger, healthier Medicare patients who don’t get sick would contribute more favorably to the bottom line and reduce its deficit. Insurance companies love this as they are left insuring the healthier portion of the population and then try and eliminate or punish patients with problems. Let them take more risk and see what happens to their premiums.
It is also unfair that every employee is already paying a 1.45% Medicare tax anyway but cannot use the service until they retire. That amounts to approximately $25/month for someone earning $10/hour. Make it a true healthcare alternative and offer them immediate, full coverage for 5% or about $85/month. Include deductibles like every other country (doctor’s visits etc.). For someone earning $50,000/year it would provide Medicare coverage for just $200/month, a bargain compared to today’s private health insurance premiums. Based upon the median US income and 50% of the population choosing this Medicare Part E alternative, this would create an extra income well in excess of $150 billion/year or $1.5 trillion in the next decade and have a positive impact on the overall deficit picture.
This would solve the big Medicare deficit problem and at the same time put a lot more money into the take-home pay of consumers with the lower premiums. This would feel like a tax break, which they could spend and boost the economy (which in turn would increase tax revenues). There should be no exclusions for pre-existing conditions as many of those people today are forced to use Access, which the taxpayer pays for anyway and the costs of which are already included in the Medicare deficits. The other upside would be that private insurers would also have to become more competitive and price conscious. This in turn would reduce private health insurance premiums, again benefiting the consumer and the economy. Such a Medicare Part E plan would also reduce substantially the money spent on bankruptcies as a result of unpaid healthcare bills and take money away from attorneys and put it back into the economy.
Of course, one of the reasons such a proposal will never emerge is that it is probably too simple. The fact that most other countries have such a solution is probably a good reason why it will never be adopted here. Everything in America is better than the rest of the world. We take better care of our medical needs than any other country. Even John Boehner claims that the US has “the best healthcare system in the world”. I am not sure whether he lives on this planet but every report that has been written about global healthcare puts the US near the bottom of the list in almost every category.
The World Health Organization (WHO) puts America at 72nd in the world in overall rankings of healthcare delivery. We are behind countries like Columbia, Egypt and Jamaica and yet when it comes to the total cost of healthcare services we are 2nd on the WHO list. This is not something to be proud of but something to be ashamed of. When the leader of the House says, “we have the best healthcare system in the world” in public perhaps we should question his judgment on a whole bunch of other issues and certainly not believe that he has the answer to our healthcare problems here in the United States.