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12/30/2009 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson

The Senate has passed its health care reform bill. Now a House-Senate Conference Committee will be convened to attempt to hammer out one bill from the Senate and House versions. The final product will probably look more like the Senate bill.

I’m not happy with it because it allows the health insurance industry to continue its death grip on our nation’s health care system. I don’t understand why conservatives insist on protecting the health insurance industry. In the first place the health insurance industry does not provide any health care. None. Zip. Zero. Instead it siphons off billions from the system for profits and obscene executive pay. In the second place we have the added burden of insurance bureaucrats looking over the shoulders of doctors and making life and death decisions as to who is going to be treated, based on the profit motive. And then we have the added expense of insurance company paperwork.

It would be far simpler and more effective to cut the insurance companies out of the mix altogether and put everyone under Medicare.

Oh, you say, Medicare is going broke and adding 30 million more people to the system will break the bank. Not so fast! Let’s do a little thinking here. Who does Medicare now insure? Only people over the age of 65. Who are the people who are likely to need more medical care? People over the age of 65. By bringing in the young people Medicare would be more like an insurance company with everyone paying premiums. I think a premium of $400 to $500 per month for those under the age of 65 would cover everyone. It wouldn’t be free and it shouldn’t be. But it would be a heck of a lot better than shelling out $13,000 per year for health insurance.

However, that’s not going to happen. The conservatives have seen to it that the health insurance industry will be doing just fine, thank you.

The bill that passed the Senate isn’t perfect, but then, no bill ever is. It’s a giant step in the right direction. Once this bill passes both houses again:

• Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

That’s a major plus for consumers.

• Insurance companies will no longer be able to drop the insurance on people who become sick. Who could possibly be against this?

• Workers won’t have to worry about losing their insurance if they switch jobs or lose their jobs.

That’s been a long time in coming.

• Thirty million Americans will be new customers of the insurance companies. People will be required to carry insurance. Those who cannot afford it will receive help from the federal government in paying the insurance premiums.

• The Congressional Budget Office claims the reforms will not result in further borrowed money by the federal government and furthermore states that the reforms will actually cut the federal deficit. Sen. Kent Conrad says the bill will cut the federal budget deficit by $130 billion over the first 10 years and between $650 and $1.3 trillion in the next decade.

• According to Sen. Byron Dorgan the Senate bill guarantees that Medicare services to senior citizens will not be cut or affected in any way.

In fact, the bill improves the solvency of Medicare, he said.

• In addition, Dorgan said, "For the first time in many decades, this bill finally provides fair reimbursement to North Dakota and several other states which have the highest quality health care, but the lowest reimbursements under Medicare. This new fair payment system will mean a strengthened health care system for senior citizens on Medicare. It will also mean a better health care system for all North Dakotans because there will be less cost shifting among individuals with private policies in order to cover the shortfall in Medicare reimbursement."

• Conrad also said the Senate bill begins to reshape the health care delivery system by placing greater premiums on health care outcomes instead of compensating providers for the number of procedures performed.

• The infamous "Doughnut Hole" in Medicare Part D for prescriptions will be closed once the final bill is passed. This will help 57,465 Part D enrollees in North Dakota.

Not one Republican in the Senate voted for these reforms.

The health care reform bill in the Senate was supported by the American Association of Retired Persons, the National Committee to Save Social Security and Medicare, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and many, many consumer groups across the country.

Contrary to the lying radio and TV ads paid for by the health insurance industry, there is no government takeover of health care. No rationing of health care. No cuts to guaranteed Medicare benefits. No benefits to illegal immigrants. And the legislation includes strict limitations to prevent taxpayer funding for abortions beyond what is in current law.

According to Harper’s Magazine, the health insurance industry spent $1.5 million per day nationwide in 2009 attempting to defeat health care reform. The industry spent about $2.2 million on lying ads in North Dakota alone. Where did the industry get that money? From people who have to pay outrageous health insurance premiums, that’s where.


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