Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Private health insurance is desperate to kill the "public Option".

Want to know why the public health care option is desired by 76% of the polled population and under major attack by the Congressional well-bribed and heavily lobbied minions of the health insurance industry? Paul Waldman explains:
[Here is ]... one thing private insurance companies will never offer.

The single-payer and hybrid systems in place in every other country in the developed world have many admirable features: lower costs, universal coverage, and better health outcomes. But what ought to make us most envious is their security -- it's what they have and we desperately need. If you live in Canada or Germany or France or Japan, there are some things you need never fear. You need never fear that your insurance company will tell you it won't cover treatment for your asthma because you had asthma before they signed you up. You need never fear that you will bankrupt your family because of expensive treatments for a serious illness. You need never fear that you will find yourself without coverage after your insurer dropped you or you lost your job. You might fear getting sick, but you won't fear that your life will be destroyed by not being able to pay for getting sick.

In the United States, unless you're over 65, extremely poor, or a veteran -- thus, already covered by a government health insurance plan -- you do have to fear all that. That's because the central pathology of our deeply pathological health-care system is that most of us have no choice but to get health coverage from an entity whose sole reason for being is to take our money and then try to avoid paying for our care when we get sick.

That may sound harsh, but let's be realistic: The purpose of a private insurance company is to make money, as much money as possible. In this, it's like any other business. But insurance is fundamentally different from other businesses. When you buy a soda, you know exactly how much you're paying for it. And when you take your first sip, you know whether you like it or not. If the soda company wanted to give you the shaft, it would only have two ways to do it: It could give you a bad-tasting product or charge you lots of money for it. Either way, you'd only end up buying it once.

But when you buy insurance, you enter into a complex relationship with a company that promises to pay for services you haven't yet used. You start paying it substantial amounts of money right away, but you don't actually use its service until some time in the future. You're also required to sign lengthy, intricate documents full of conditions and exclusions and legalese that few people are equipped to understand. You are at the company's mercy, which makes its incentives and inclinations so important.

The private health insurance market is dominated by four gigantic insurers: UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Aetna, and Cigna. In the last five years, these companies have combined to earn over $44 billion in profits; UnitedHealth alone has made over $17 billion in profits over that period. "On Wall Street," the Los Angeles Times has noted, these companies "showcase their efforts to hold down expenses and maximize shareholder returns by excluding customers likely to need expensive care, including those with chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes. The companies lobby governments to take over responsibility for their sickest customers so they can reserve the healthiest (and most profitable) for themselves."

[Highlighting mine - editor]
One reason why health care costs are skyrocketing is that the "insured" are willing to pay higher and higher fees to get some improved security from their health care insurance. The insurers spread this around to health care suppliers so that they, too, have a major stake in avoiding the competition provided by an efficiently provided public health insurance that anyone can get.

Remember, if you don't like the public health insurance offering, you can always buy a supplemental policy of the type already sold to supplement Medicare. But then the health insurance companies would have to face competition to provide that. As it is today, most major health insurers have no effective competition in their service areas.

America desperately needs universal health care with assured coverage by a government plan. We've needed it since before the FDR era, and the private insurers and the AMA have been about to play the Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt card and overpriced lobbyists.Right now they are spending $1.2 million per day to kill national health care and the only arguments you hear against a government provided health care plan are fear based and mostly lies.

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