Reform? Why do we need health-care reform? Everything is just fine the way it is.
By Jonathan Alter | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jul 31, 2009
Go ahead, shoot me. I like the status quo on health care in the United States. I've got health insurance and I don't give a damn about the 47 million suckers who don't. Obama and Congress must be stopped. No bill! I'm better off the way things are.
I'm with that woman who wrote the president complaining about "socialized medicine" and added: "Now keep your hands off my Medicare." That's the spirit!
Why should I be entitled to the same insurance that members of Congress get? Blue Dogs need a lot of medical attention to treat their blueness. I'm just a regular guy and definitely deserve less.
I had cancer a few years ago. I like the fact that if I lose my job, I won't be able to get any insurance because of my illness. It reminds me of my homeowners' insurance, which gets canceled after a break-in. I like the choice I'd face if, God forbid, the cancer recurs—sell my house to pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in treatment, or die. That's what you call a "post-existing condition."
I like the absence of catastrophic insurance today. It meant that my health-insurance plan (one of the better ones, by the way) only covered about 75 percent of the cost of my cutting-edge treatment. That's as it should be—face cancer and shell out huge amounts of money at the same time. Nice.
I like the "lifetime limits" that many policies have today. Missed the fine print on that one, did you? It means that after you exceed a certain amount of reimbursement, you don't get anything more from the insurance company. That's fair.
Speaking of fair, it seems fair to me that cost-cutting bureaucrats at the insurance companies—not doctors—decide what's reimbursable. After all, the insurance companies know best.
Yes, the insurance company status quo rocks. I learned recently about something called the "loading fees" of insurance companies. That's how much of every health-care dollar gets spent by insurance companies on things other than the medical care—paperwork, marketing, profits, etc. According to a University of Minnesota study, up to 47 percent of all the money going into the health-insurance system is consumed in "loading fees." Even good insurance companies spend close to 30 percent on nonmedical stuff. Sweet.
The good news is that the $8,000 a year per family that Americans pay for their employer-based health insurance is heading up! According to the Council of Economic Advisers, it will hit $25,000 per family by 2025. The sourpusses who want health-care reform say that's "unsustainable." Au contraire.
And how could the supporters of these reform bills believe in anything as stupid as a "public option"? Do they really believe that the health-insurance cartel deserves a little competition to keep them honest? Back in the day, they had a word for competition. A bad word. They called it capitalism. FedEx versus the U.S. Postal Service, CNN versus PBS—just because it's government-backed doesn't mean you can't compete against it. If they believed in capitalism, the insurance companies would join the fray and compete.
I'm glad they don't. I prefer the status quo, where the for-profit insurance companies suck at the teat of the federal government. Corporate welfare's what we've got, and it's a damn good system. Through a wonderful program called Medicare Advantage, the insurance companies receive hundreds of billions of dollars in fees to administer a program that the government is already running. Don't touch that baby. You'd be messing with the handiwork of some fine lobbyists.
You know what part of the status quo I like best? It's a longstanding system for paying doctors called "fee for service." That's where doctors get paid for each procedure they perform, as if my auto dealer got paid separately for the steering wheel, brakes, and horn instead of for the car. Fee-for-service is why the medical care at that doc-in-a-box at my mall is so superior to the Mayo Clinic or Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where the doctors are on salary. Who would want to mess with that?
OK, if you really press me, I'm for one change. It's the one that Republicans trot out to prove they're "reformers," too. We could save our whole system if we just capped malpractice awards. Two of our biggest states—California and Texas—did it a few years ago and nothing has changed there, but who cares? It sounds good.
So tell your congressmen and senators when they're home for the summer recess that it's too soon to address this issue. We've only been debating it for 97 years, since Theodore Roosevelt put national health insurance in the Bull Moose Party platform of 1912. We've only had 745 congressional hearings on the subject (I made that number up, but it's got to be close). That's not enough! Let's study this problem more before we do anything about it.
Did I say "problem"? Who said there was a problem? Not me. I like the status quo.