In a recent Tribune article, a woman who supports this yet undefined legislation complained she had to pay over $100 in medical costs for a family member. Wow, a whole $100!
A lot of Americans believe that health insurance is somehow different from other insurance. In addition to protecting from ruinous expense (the traditional role of insurance) it should also pay virtually all medical expenses. Earlier in this generation, families paid their doctor for office visits and routine care without engaging an insurance company. What was then aptly named "major medical insurance" covered big expenses like hospital stays and surgery.
There is no question that medical care is an expensive proposition. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it consumes a little more than twice the percentage of GDP that it did in 1970 (7.2 percent then, 16 percent now). While this is partially due to the cost of new medical technologies, much of it does not.
Because insurance pays most of the expense of routine care, people go to the doctor for minor things like sore throats. This arrangement also eliminates incentive to shop for value or even be aware of what things cost.
Because of the current insurance structure, virtually every doctor visit, test and prescription causes paper to flow through an insurance administrator. Providers have to wait at least weeks for payment by the carrier. These costs are significant and contribute nothing to the quality of our health care.
Many people lead make poor lifestyle choices that cause unnecessary medical problems or increases their severity (over eating, smoking, etc.)
Since we expect a perfect result from medicine, we sue if the outcome does not meet that expectation. Not only does this increase the cost of liability insurance for doctors, medical facilities and equipment/pharmaceutical manufacturers, but it also encourages the practice of defensive medicine (running tests to eliminate all other possibilities even when the medical problem is obvious). Again, these costs are significant and contribute nothing to the quality of health care.
If we are to make any progress on this front, we need to change our thinking on how health insurance should work. There are some legitimate issues with our health insurance (not health care) system such as exclusion of pre-existing conditions and providers charging the uninsured, who are least able to pay "full retail" for services. But even so, I can't think of an entity more ill-suited to fix these problems than the federal government. Consider the record of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the U.S. Postal Service, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. The government may have a role in funding coverage for those that truly cannot pay, but should not get any deeper into the delivery of services than they already are.
The public abdicated responsibility for our health care to insurance companies some time ago. How has that worked for us? That thinking has now evolved into health insurance being a right, not something we need to provide for ourselves. Now we are thinking the solution is letting the feds try running the system?
Can't work, won't work, not no way not no how.
Bob Whitaker lives in Canton and serves on the Cherokee County Planning Commission.