The Freak Show: Our Health Care Disgrace

Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways And Means Health Subcommittee, recently sent a letter to the top ten health insurance companies demanding they pass their excessive profits on to their customers by lowering premiums. Stark pointed to a report that the $9.3 billion in profits for the first nine months of 2010 is up an average of 41 percent over the same period last year.

This comes on top of the fact that the top five insurance companies earned average profits of $12.2 billion in 2009, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008. And CEO compensation for these companies ranged from $3 million to $24 million. (I would suggest that the insurance company CEO who took home $24 million while there are people who die because they can’t afford health insurance is a despicable human being, and should be ashamed of himself for taking such massive compensation from the premiums you and I pay and not being charitable to those in need.)

The health care reform passed by the Obama administration over the objections of the Republicans dealt with the issue mainly by putting requirements on both the public and the insurance companies. For the public, it will require people to buy health insurance. For the insurance companies, it will not let them deny people coverage for pre-existing conditions, and let children stay on their parent’s policies until they turn 26, among other things.

But the reason the plan stinks is that, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t do much in the way of lowering the cost of insurance. The theory is that once everyone has to buy insurance, the market will keep the cost down, because there will a bigger pool of people buying it.

Of course, the Republican plan is even worse. Their plan for the eight years President Bush was in office was to do nothing. And their current response is to repeal the reform bill, and go back to what we had.

I have to question why there wasn’t a study of why the cost of insurance has gone up so much, on average seven to 15 percent a year, for the past 10 years. Hospitals are struggling, and some are even going out of business. Doctors say they aren’t making more. Pharmaceutical companies are laying off researchers due to lack of profitability. So why are costs going up so much? Is it solely the insurance companies? It looks like it on the surface, but if we had the facts, a plan could be passed that dealt with the precise reasons why the cost of health insurance has increased so much over the years. If we dealt with that issue, we wouldn’t have to require people to buy it; it would be affordable and most people would voluntarily buy it.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the health care industry sent an average of six lobbyists to every elected official on Capitol Hill to make sure the bill didn’t interfere with their profits. And, of course, money talks. Some even say the insurers will benefit from the plan, because now people are actually required to buy their product.

Let’s forget for a moment that getting all Americans basic health care is something we should aspire to, just because we are a rich nation and should be able to do that. From a world view, our economy and our competitiveness on the world market would get a tremendous boost if we were to have national health insurance. Our companies presently spend a big chunk of their gross income on health benefits for their workers. Every other industrialized country has a national health insurance plan, so that’s a cost they don’t have to bear.

Republicans are always spouting that we need to lower corporate taxes, so our corporations can compete with foreign companies. It seems to me there should be a group called “Republicans for National Health Insurance,” because that would give our corporations a large boost in their efforts to compete with companies in other countries.

And speaking of these other countries with national health insurance, let’s look at the results. Does the Republican claim that we have the best health care in the world hold any water?

It does for them, because we pay for our elected officials to have the best care money can buy. But for the average American, check out these statistics: The U.S. Census Bureau reported that more money, and a greater percentage of our income, is spent on health care than in any United Nations member state except for East Timor.

Yet, life expectancy in the US is somewhere between 37th and 42nd in the world, depending on what study you read. Similar, by the way, to countries such as Chile and Cuba. We rank 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality and 42nd for adult male mortality.

Keep in mind, as I mentioned earlier, we spend the most, by far, of any nation on earth. And our ranking declines each year. If we’re supposed to be the greatest nation on earth, why are our leaders not dealing with this? They treat it like a political game. It’s a travesty, and our leaders are failing miserably in dealing with it. Our supposedly great country, with all our innovation, all our wealth, all our luxuries, allows 44,000 Americans die each year due to lack of adequate health insurance, according to a study by Harvard University.

And finally, with all the worry over the massive budget deficit the Federal government is running up, and the budget problems the states are having, you would think they would want to contain health care costs, since the health benefits state workers get, not only while working but after they retire, is a major cause of their increasing budgets. Solving this issue would be benefit us in so many ways, it’s time for our politicians to stop listening to lobbyists and start being leaders.