Socialize my Medicine, Please!

September 23rd, 2009

I went to a business lunch & learn presentation today, given by a very nice insurance agent, all about health insurance. He covered the history of health insurance, how we got in the mess we’re in today, and some ideas about how to fix it. His intention was to give business owners an idea of some options and choices that exist now. Well, we didn’t really get far into that last part, as so much of the time was taken up with people’s impassioned views on the subject of our health care system. Not surprising in the USA today.

A lot of views were expressed about how people overuse medical care, and doctors over-test and over-prescribe in order to cover their butts against potential liability, how we expect higher standards of care than in the past, how we take too many prescription drugs and don’t emphasize prevention enough. I can get with most of that, as far as it goes. I think health education and healthy lifestyle choices could be much more emphasized. I think the practice of defensive medicine is a real problem. But I don’t think the answer is to turn back the clock and say if you injure your knee you should just live with the limitations for the rest of your life, rather than having rehabilitation available. I don’t think having real effective treatments for conditions that were taken for granted throughout human history is a bad thing. People don’t have to suffer like they did – throughout human history.

It was more than I could do in the short time we were together to really make the case for chronic illness, though I tried. We all need to be responsible for ourselves, and take care of ourselves, and looking to a doctor or a pill to solve everything is not the answer. But many of us do not have the option to go without medical care – we cannot function without it. And the advances in medicine that may be seen as excessive or unnecessary by some are not happening fast enough for us, to help us function.

Many of us with chronic illnesses are living the healthiest lifestyles imaginable. We’ve cut out the unhealthy things that others just think they should cut out. We don’t have a choice because these things make us sick now. One guy said he thought it was crazy that healthy people and sick people should pay the same insurance premiums. This shows the problem with a traditional, for profit insurance risk model – but how can any rational person say that you have to be extremely wealthy to be a sick person? Should I pay twice (or five times) as much for my insurance as you? In other words if I get sick, if I have a genetic predisposition to disease, have an accident, or am just unlucky, I should go broke and end up an the street in order to pay for my care? Or maybe I should just die? A pure for-profit insurance model like this guy was championing, that’s the real death panel.  (Choosing who should live or die based on ability to pay. We have that in this country right now!)

I’m responding to things that I couldn’t respond to at the time without completely diverting the conversation. Unlike some wingnuts in town hall meetings around this country, I’m polite enough not to shout people down. Most of the time.

But what really got me was when we started talking about the Canadian model – interestingly, our presenter was a Canadian, living in the US for the last 15 years. He debunked the myth that people wait years for needed surgery in Canada. The same guy whose views I took issue with above said that in Canada the health care is free but the beer is really expensive. He said, “I’d rather have a cheap six-pack than a heart transplant.” Now listen, he was trying to be funny, but come on. Ask anyone on the street if they’d rather have a beer or a heart transplant, and chances are only those who need heart transplants are going to opt for the second choice. Even if you don’t like beer… The point is, that if you need a heart transplant, you should be able to have one without worrying about losing your life savings, or dying without the care you need. And yeah, go on and tax the unhealthy things to pay for the healthcare. Makes sense to me!

- Megan

Hit in the head image courtesy of Pawel Loj.

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Posted in Advocacy, Current Affairs, Rant | Comments (4)

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  • Parin of Sparkling With Crystals

    I feel bad about all this. I’ve felt bad about it since I worked for Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

    Blue Cross and Blue Shield in our state is not-for-profit–all money above expenses must be returned to the corporation to reduce premiums. It varies by state though. We got training in how it all works back when I worked for them.

    I believe that you and I have common ground with the belief that the medical industry’s profit is a problem.

    I just don’t believe that socialized medicine in the US will protect anyone’s assets. It would be like people keeping assets instead of paying income taxes–I dread the thought of the government issuing a wage or bank levy on a citizen because he or she failed to make payments on their mandatory health insurance policies, for example. Or the horror of having to justify Migraine treatment as life threatening so that the government would treat us for free.

    Absolutely there are some of us Migraineurs and other chronickers whose conditions are associated with increased risk of death. But there are no studies to help us prove that treatment reduces risk of death, at least not for Migraine or Meniere’s which are two of my biggies. I wonder if certain treatments aren’t more damaging than helpful, truth be told, but there aren’t any studies done about that either that I’m aware of.

    It might be that declaring us as “disabled” would be cheaper for the government than treating us. I don’t believe I want the government in the business of making health-care decisions of that sort for me (ironically, though, they did, but because I retired from them on disability pension). The “what-ifs” are too numerous to leave to chance and Congress, to me.

    What is the answer? I don’t know. I believe what the answer isn’t is socialization of medical care.

  • admin

    Well Parin I do understand the concern about undertreatment of chronickers – but I don’t see that kind of rationing of care as likely. No one is talking about putting in a system where only conditions that carry a risk of death get treated. As it is, we’ve had socialized medicine in this country for decades – known as Medicare – and though it needs its funding revamped, other than that it seems to be working just fine. Many doctors prefer working with Medicare to working with insurance companies as there is so much less paperwork and they actually have less overhead to deal with that way.

  • Emily

    I was a manager for BCBS of MO, now a Wellpoint/Anthem subsidiary and for-profit.

    Not only do private insurances limit healthcare, they puposely raise rates on small groups with high risk, when really their profit/loss is taken as a unit as a whole. This is just extra money for them. Overall thier risk rating for all the insured is probably fairly low.

    For profit insurance companies like Wellpoint also own many many small insurance companies and control entire sectors of the market, both on the insurance side to consumers and the pricing side to hospitals and doctors. They do some things well, and many things to maintain profitability generally to your health providers detriment.

    Check the SEC filings that the heads of these ginormous insurance conglomerates must make before they trade their shares – tens of millions of dollars in bonus stock just to be a CEO.

    There is no profit in insuring sick people, which is why the government was propping up Medicare by HMO reimbursing the insurance companies 125% of cost.

    We have created our own mess in the United States by allowing insuance companies to swallow up other insurance companies, all in the name of profit. If we had a “public” insurance option, those of us that have been in the health insurance industry understand that it probably would be bid out to intermediaries just like Medicare is, and the private sector would still get their cut of the pie.

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