Democrats & Liberals Archives

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

If your company subsidizes a large part of your health care plan, you’re lucky. Many companies can’t afford to do so. And forget trying to pay for it yourself. One of the companies I worked for went out of business. I had the option of paying for COBRA coverage, but it was so expensive I couldn’t take advantage of it. I was out of a job, for cryin’ out loud! Luckily, it was the 90s and I had another job within a couple weeks. Currently the average between jobs is about four months. That’s a long time to be without health care, especially if you have a young family or are being treated for a chronic condition.

In the run-up to the 2000 election, Al Gore used to talk a lot about the 41 million Americans who don't have health care. 41 million fellow Americans for whom getting sick or hurt can mean going broke. That number of people has now risen to 43.6 million.

Here's what I like about America: people don't mind if others have a better car, or take better vacations, or live in nicer houses. But we draw the line when a poor child with cancer gets worse medical treatment than a rich child with cancer. I've never met anyone -- Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever -- who feels that's right, but unfortunately that's what's happening right now.

So health care in America is too expensive for both private individuals and for businesses. What can we do about it? John Kerry's health care plan focuses on three goals: Increase coverage, decrease costs, and improve quality.

Increase Coverage
Kerry's plan has a number of proposals to increase health insurance coverage. That's a good thing, because when more people are covered, costs per person are lower. The plan allows individuals and companies to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. It's the largest employer-sponsored group health care plan in the world, currently covering 9 million people. The government negotiates prices and services with health care companies, and they go along with it because they want access to those 9 million customers.

Increased coverage decreases the costs paid by health care companies for uninsured emergency patients; costs which are passed on to insurance companies and finally to you and me through higher premiums. Prices are also kept down because more people get preventative care, so diseases are caught early when they are easier and cheaper to cure.

Decrease Costs
In addition to the cost decreases inherent in increased coverage, Kerry's plan also targets three other areas: Prescription drugs, malpractice insurance, and hospital accounting. Kerry's plan supports investment in drug research, but closes loopholes that allow drug companies to "game" the patent system and keep prescription drug prices inflated. It also prescribes transparency in the drug supply chain to insure that bulk discount savings are passed on to patients.

Kerry's plan makes it harder to file frivolous lawsuits. This is the one part of is plan I have a problem with. Malpractice costs account for one half of one percent of health care costs, so even if Kerry completely banned all malpractice suits, it wouldn't make any difference in the cost of health care. However, his plan does include making information on malpractice suits public. Five percent of all doctors are responsible for more than half of all malpractice payouts. So making a doctor's malpractice records public will keep people from unwittingly submitting themselves to a high possibility of medical error.

The biggest savings will come from Kerry's plan to cut administrative costs in half by encouraging the use of computers and technology to handle paperwork. This has the added benefit of reducing the errors inherent in interpreting a doctor's bad handwriting. Kerry says, "While banks have cut their costs to less than a penny per transaction using computers and technology, a single transaction in health care costs as much as twelve to twenty-five dollars -- and not a penny goes to care. Eliminating this inefficiency in our health system is... the only way to bring America's health care into the twenty-first century."

Improve Quality
When students enter medical school, they're told that, "half of what we will teach you is wrong. Unfortunately, we don't know which half." John Kerry's plan provides financial incentives to report performance data on quality and staffing levels to create benchmarks for providing better care. X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, all these things are routinely prescribed, but there are no scientific guidelines as to whether they are effective in specific cases. Often they are completely unnecessary. Compiling data on the effectiveness of treatments and reducing unnecessary excessive health care could save about $70 billion every year while increasing quality.

Quality, affordable health care for every American can be a reality. There is no reason for 43.6 million people to be without health care. There is no reason for health care to be virtually unaffordable for individuals. There is no reason for health care to be prohibitively expensive for businesses. Hell, if everyone could afford health care, there would be no need for businesses to provide it. More than $1,000 of the price of every car and truck that rolls off the GM assembly line is health care. Imagine how competitive US companies could be if that overhead just disappeared.

John Kerry's health care plan benefits businesses and individuals. There's no reason not to make it happen.

Posted by American Pundit at April 21, 2004 8:44 AM