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7/15/2009 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson


I have little hope that any meaningful health care reform will take place this year. The insurance companies are already running ads designed to convince gullible people that the government plans to take their health care choices away. These ads are lies! Don’t believe them!

The present system is a gravy train for insurance companies and they don’t want to be thrown from the train. But the only way enough savings can be wrung out of the health care system is by removing the insurance companies from the mix. Their profits and the bureaucratic hoops policyholders must jump through are a good part of the reason health care is so expensive.

Wendell Potter of the Center for Media and Democracy appeared on "Bill Moyers Journal" on Prairie Public TV Sunday. According to Potter the insurance companies are fighting against any reform. They are hoping nothing happens. He said that during the Clinton years insurance companies spent 95c of every premium dollar on paying medical claims. Today that figure has fallen to 80c. Wall Street demands the insurance companies generate big profits and that is what has happened. Remember, too, that health insurance premiums have skyrocketed in that period of time, so the profits are enormous.

Another way insurance companies maximize profits is by removing those from coverage that need medical care. Aetna, for instance, shed 8 million people from its coverage in recent years. Those people are probably going without insurance.

The conservative ideology is founded on the falsehood that government can do no good. They believe government cannot solve any problems and government involvement only makes things worse. Wrong!

Social Security, a socialist program, is among the most successful programs the US government has ever run. The cost of administering it is 1.4 percent. Medicare, another socialist program, is very successful. The administrative expense of running Medicare is three percent. The administrative expenses of the insurance industry are 20%. Tell me again that government can’t get anything right. Medicare also has a higher satisfaction rate than private health insurance.

You don’t want Socialism? Then we’re going to have to get rid of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare is government-run insurance. Ask a Medicare recipient if there are long waits to get health care. Ask a Medicare recipient if the program demands that patients use certain doctors and cannot use others. There is no waiting and no dictating to Medicare participants who their medical providers will be.

Full coverage medical insurance for a family runs in the neighborhood of $1,000 per month and the insurance companies raise their premiums every year. This situation simply can’t continue and the system must be changed. Many city, state, federal and school district employees have their premiums paid by the taxpayers. In fact, Harper’s magazine estimates the health care of 83 million Americans is paid by taxpayers. There will come a time when the political subdivisions simply won’t have the funds to cover this expense.

Our present system threatens to bankrupt the US government. That’s not all. Half the personal bankruptcies in the US are estimated to be caused by medical debts and illness. The surprising thing is that according to the Washington Post, three-quarters of those had health insurance.

A letter writer in the Grand Forks Herald stated it very well:

". . . when will enough Americans come to the conclusion that access to health care is an essential service and not just another commodity to be bought and sold on the open market? It’s a conclusion that every other industrialized nation has already come to."

In a recent column the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman stated that France spends half as much per capita for health care for its citizens as the US does. Everybody is covered and mortality rates in France are similar to those of the US. Why are our health care costs twice that of France? A good part of the reason is because the French don’t allow for profit insurance companies to exploit the situation.

It’s definitely time for a change, but the conservatives are resolute that the insurance industry will maintain its stranglehold on the American health care system. And Democrats are running off in 14 different directions with 14 different plans. The Obama plan, by the way, is far too timid to result in meaningful reform.

What we need is a single payer plan similar to the Canadian system.

I’ve never met a Canadian who was willing to change their system for ours. Canadians don’t ration health care with dollars like we do.


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