Turn on the news and watch about 5 minutes. Chances are that unless you tuned in to the local sports roundup, that you heard at least one story about health. Even if you were listening to the local sports roundup, you probably heard about some athlete at a local high school with swine flu. Obesity, H1N1, Medicare Part D, government health plans funding abortion, and smoking are just a few of the issues that all make great fodder for the national healthcare reform debate. One of President Obama’s key campaign promises was reforming the healthcare system. The fact remains that the United States remains the only industrialized nation without some sort of national, comprehensive health plan. Is that a bad thing? Probably. But if you have paid any attention to the national debate, it is clear now more than ever that our nation’s lawmakers have a long way to go if we are ever going to make any progress on the issue.
I wrote an article back in September that highlighted the root causes of the healthcare debate, which you can see here. After a lot of spirited debate in Congress, and Democrats backing down on the so called “public option,” it seems like all that we are left with is a plan that is expensive and inefficient. The United States already holds the world title in the expensive and inefficient category with nearly twice as much health care spending per capita than any other wealthy nation in the world. We spend over $7500 per citizen on healthcare, nearly one-fifth of our GDP, and yet as I have mentioned before, the overall health of the US lags behind almost every other industrialized nation on the planet. The current House plan for healthcare reform was reviewed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which released its findings this week. The CBO estimated that the House plan will bring in $167 billion dollars over 10 years in penalties paid by people that would rather pay fines than get health coverage. The House plan suggests that it will help bridge the health care gap by covering up to 96% of the population from the current 83% that has adequate coverage. However, the plan also substantially relies on the fees collected from the uninsured to pay for expanding coverage. It might just be me, but something about that sounds a bit misguided at best. According to President Obama, the main reason that the healthcare system needs reform is to make it more affordable for Americans. Therefore, creating a system in which 10 million or more people would rather pay fines than get coverage somehow doesn’t seem like a more affordable solution.
Congratulations, Washington, it looks like we have a winner. If more people than anticipated rush to get coverage, we have a system that can’t be paid for, and if we fine the uninsured to pay for it, we have created a system that isn’t any more affordable than we have right now. What it really boils down to is that lawmakers are unable or unwilling to put aside partisan differences to effect real change. Liberal Democrats want a public option with the ability to set artificially low prices like Medicaid to pay for services. Moderate Democrats want the ability for the government to negotiate directly with providers to prevent an artificially cheap government program that draws people out of the private sector, which would hurt doctors. Republicans more or less want to keep things the same and let the free market reign with a few little changes like capping malpractice and encouraging competition by allowing insurance to be sold across state lines.
Whether you pay attention to the finer details about why the health care debate isn’t working or not, you need to pay attention to the bigger issue at hand. The reason that each of you as dads and husbands and sons and brothers should be very concerned is that if healthcare reform gets passed in its current watered down, lukewarm, inefficient, ineffective state, then we are all in for a lot more harm than good. This is an all or nothing deal .If Congress doesn’t create a plan that is affordable for everyone, then all of the legislation and regulation that will be required to implement these changes will only make things more expensive for everyone. I have seen the writing on the wall. As an employee for a small company, I currently have a high deductible policy that barely does more than prevent me from going bankrupt if I get sick or have an accident. I just received a letter last week that my health insurance company is no longer going to provide coverage in Texas, my state of residence. Coincidence? I think that private insurers are bracing themselves and getting out of risky markets now while they still can. The result? My company switches to a new insurer with one less choice and just a little less competition…
Dave Baldwin is a businessman, musician, and divorced father of two boys. They live together in El Paso, TX.