Friday, March 30, 2007

Democrats running for Pres all support universal healthcare.

Karen Tumulty of Time Magazine moderated and covered the debate about health care held in Las Vegas last week. All the current candidates for President, Republican and Democrat both, were invited. No Republican accepted, while all the Democrats except Joe Biden accepted and showed up. The health care forum was held at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas on March 24, 2007.
Every Democrat in the 2008 presidential field has promised to provide health coverage to all the estimated 47 million Americans who lack it and to curb costs that have sent premiums soaring four times as fast as wages. On March 24, seven candidates showed up for a health-care forum that I moderated in Las Vegas, sponsored by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Service Employees International Union, and the Center for American Progress Action Fund. [Snip]

There was no disagreement over the need to fix health care, only over how fast it could be done. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said he could accomplish it in his first year in the White House; New York Senator Clinton said it might take until the end of her second term; everyone else was somewhere in between. There was some dispute over whether reforming the nation's health-care system would require new taxes. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards said it would; Richardson said it wouldn't; others were equivocal.
So why does it appear that this is the year of healthcare reform?
...the problems of high cost and inadequate coverage have gotten a lot worse since Clinton's plan crashed and burned. As employer-provided insurance has become skimpier and skimpier, the problem has turned nearly every American into an "expert" on health care with ideas on how to fix it. For another, the corporations that were Clinton's chief adversaries in 1994 are now among the loudest voices clamoring for something to be done about health-care costs. In the meantime, some states--among them, Massachusetts, California, Maine and Vermont--are moving ahead to guarantee all their citizens coverage.

But while health care for all is now a popular slogan, Edwards is the only candidate offering a plan that would actually get to universal coverage. His proposal is much like a model that is being tried or considered in several states and that includes a combination of features. For example, it requires employers who don't insure their workers to pay into a fund for the uninsured, and individuals who don't get coverage from their employers to buy it, and provides subsidies for those who can't afford the premiums.
The two largest problems that seem to be recognized by Democrats are that access to health insurance is declining, while health care itself (and the insurance that often pays for it) is increasing at a rate far above the rate of inflation.

Maybe this election will bring some effort to find some solutions.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Why we don't want private health insurers chasing after profits.

The LA Times just published this story:
Blue Cross of California systematically violates state law when it cancels health insurance policyholders after they get pregnant or sick, making no attempt to determine whether the consumers did anything to merit such harsh treatment, a scathing investigation by state regulators has found.

As a result of its unprecedented investigation, the Department of Managed Health Care today fined Blue Cross $1 million. The department's findings also expose the company, the state's largest health insurer, to legal liability in dozens of lawsuits filed by consumers who allege their policies were illegally canceled, subjecting them to substantial hardships.
When I need the benefits of my health insurance, I need it at the time I am sick (or the pregnant woman needs it when pregnant and when giving birth.) Even if the insurance company is caught denying benefits illegally, as most are not, then they don't get sued or fined until a long time after the benefits are actually needed.

A private health insurer has one purpose. That is to make money. They are not there to help pay for your health care. They are there to collect payments on your health insurance policy and pay out as little as possible. They can make a lot of money as long as they receive the payments and don't pay the benefits. It doesn't matter to them if you don't use the benefits because you are healthy, or because they deny your policy when the benefits should have been paid. It just matters that they get richer if they do not pay out the benefits on your health insurance.

The government does not have a profit motive. The covered benefits are paid when they are needed. If they aren't, then the government is carefully watched by large numbers of people who want to catch them out. Clearly we cannot say the same for even the very best of the private insurance companies. Blue Cross/Blue Shield has usually been the very best.

The health care industry should be working to keep people healthy or make them well. They should not be working to get rich themselves. (And most aren't.) But as long as we have private health insurance companies trying to skim off the healthiest of the rate payers, health care will cost too much for those who can pay for the insurance, while leaving a lot of people out - often unexpectedly as the customers of Blue Cross in California found.

This is one more very strong argument for single-payer national health care.

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