IMHO: Health “Care”

Like most Americans who have health insurance (and most do), I’m reasonably happy with what I already have.

And like many Americans, I’m willing to take the President at his word from the campaign trail—that if you like the insurance you have, you’ll get to keep it.  But as I study the text in the two bills that will have to be merged to create legislation to fulfill that promise—well, I have to tell you, I’m not sure how that’s going to happen(1).   

That matters, IMHO, not only in the here-and-now world of paying for health care versus saving for retirement (and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that many participants are making those trade-offs), but even more so in the post-retirement world where those burgeoning health-care costs stand to siphon so much from nest eggs that are perhaps already insufficient. 

But make no mistake—I’m all for health-care reform, just not for what is currently proposed under that banner in Washington.   

“For” Score 

I’m all for some kind of safety net for those with preexisting conditions, more equitable treatment (and costs) for those who don’t have access to employer-sponsored plans, the ability to buy insurance across state lines (as we do with car insurance), and, yes, some kind of tort reform.  

I think we all need some kinds of protections against bearing the cost of “insuring” those who can afford, but choose not, to buy insurance (by some estimates, half of the 30 million that the Senate bill purports to extend coverage to fall into that category)—and, heartless as it may seem to some, I do not see why we must bear the cost burdens for those who are not legally entitled to be here (the “you’re already paying for it” argument doesn’t wash with me).  I also think that a lot of our current cost problems with health care aren’t necessarily a product of a bloated healthcare system or profit-mongering insurance companies – but are  a function of what state law(s) require that insurance cover; things like hair plugs, Viagra, etc.  And, yes, I think there should be a difference between procedures performed by a doctor that are truly medically necessary and those that are, at least effectively, “cosmetic.”   

However, one cannot credibly say that the current system is “working.”  Everyone who wants health insurance can’t get it, those with preexisting conditions have trouble obtaining—and keeping—the coverage they have, and the current cost trends are unsustainable for us all.  IMHO, Americans with health insurance are too well-insulated from the cost consequences of their choices(2)—and doctors are more worried about the litigious aspects of their proscriptions than they are the costs of their prescriptions.  Until those dynamics change, I see little hope for bending, much less breaking, the cost line trends in health care.  

That said, I don’t see anything that addresses those issues in the bill that has passed the House, or in what I have thus far been able to discern in the bill that, just last week, passed the Senate. This is serious business—and it deserves better than the process that stands ready to undermine the protections that the vast majority of Americans enjoy with their health care for a distinct minority that do not. 

That’s why I’m hoping that this current effort stalls out—to give us a chance to step back, and truly examine the things that need redress as we try to fix what’s broken (and not everything is), and keep what works (though not everything does).  That, as we do so, we acknowledge and respect the breadth of impact that these decisions will have on our nation and our lives—and that lawmakers consider the interests of the many, as well as the few.  

In short, I’m hoping that this current effort comes up short—not because we don’t need health-care reform, but because we do. 


(1) For those who see a role for the federal government in bringing about change as a competing force (the so-called “public option”), I’m not yet able to see the benefits that that not-so-invisible hand has exerted as a force for change in the 48% of the nation’s health-care costs it already influences (via Medicare/Medicaid).  For those who see an opportunity in expanding those already-strained programs as a means of dealing with the current “crisis,” I wonder about their ability to take on an even larger responsibility.  For those who champion the opportunities to be afforded by wringing “waste and inefficiency” from the system, I say—why wait?

(2) As I changed employers a decade ago, I learned a couple of key lessons about health care and health-care insurance.  First, I gained a whole new level of appreciation for the costs of health-care insurance—even costs buffered by the provisions of COBRA (ever since, I have maintained that every employee ought to “go on COBRA” for 30 days).  However, my second insight came from an encounter at our local physician.  My wife took our kids for the regular wellness checkups she had been doing routinely for years—and when the time came to pay, she informed the clerk that we no longer had the insurance card/coverage, but that we’d be writing a check for the services.  With no additional explanation, that dear clerk basically ripped up the invoice that would have been paid by our insurer—and presented us with a bill that was a fraction of the “standard” cost.  This, despite my wife’s assurances that I was still employed, and that we could afford to pay the standard rate; there was, apparently, a different charge for those that had insurance, and those who didn’t.