One of the unintended effects of the debate on healthcare “reform” is to highlight just how out of touch our rulers are with the rest of us.
In a statement, Senator Max Baucus told the Senate Finance Committee “All Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care coverage.” Guess who gets to define what “affordable” means?
Originally, his plan called for anyone making three times the official poverty level to be forced to hand over as much as 13% of his gross income to the health insurance companies. Let’s see now – three times the official poverty level is $32,490 a year. Thirteen percent of that is $4227.
Now, 32k a year isn’t doing much better than keeping your head above water. So Max Baucus expects somebody who is just barely scraping by – and likely cobbling together three or four part-time jobs in order to do so – to have four thousand dollars lying around he can just hand over to the health insurance companies for their worthless services. And those who can’t afford to pay up will be fined. That’ll teach ‘em.
On what planet do people like Baucus live, anyway?
Yes, I know, Baucus promised yesterday his bill would include subsidies to help “moderate-income” people purchase insurance. How big a subsidy, he didn’t say. And no doubt the individuals who get the subsidies will have to undergo the same humiliating means testing now required for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
At a campaign-style rally at the University of Maryland, President Obama tried to scare healthy young people into believing that forcing them to shell out money for health insurance is for their own good. Apparently it’s not enough for him that a university diploma – almost the only ticket left to the middle class – is virtually unobtainable without incurring a five- or six-figure indenture. We have to turn the young people into cash cows for the health insurance companies, as well.
And for what? The health insurance companies aren’t the solution – they are the problem. People don’t need health insurance – they need health care. You can buy health insurance, and pay your premiums in good faith every month, and if you become seriously ill they can and will cancel your insurance. It’s all perfectly legal. You won’t even get back the premiums you paid.
Yes, I know – the “Healthy Future Act” will prevent insurance companies from doing that anymore. And if they think that we think that will solve the problem, then they must think that we’re a bunch of fools. As if the people who were venal enough to come up with the idea of recission won’t come up with something just as bad. Of course they will. They’ll be perfectly happy to offer you something called “health insurance,” but it will come at a price you can’t afford, or it won’t cover what you need. Count on it.
This Rube Goldberg scheme of insurance mandates and subsidies and fines for non-compliance has nothing to do with a healthy future. Much less does it have anything to do with a “free market.” It’s about preserving and expanding the health insurance companies’ profits, and damn the cost (financial and otherwise) to anyone else. Does anyone doubt their profits will be fatter after health care “reform” is passed?
It’s also about ensuring a fearful and compliant workforce. People who are saturated with the message that we are all fragile creatures who need expensive medical interventions all throughout their lives to keep them from falling over dead, AND who live in perpetual dread of losing their health insurance, aren’t very likely to call out their boss for doing something unethical or illegal. Or to quit and start a rival company.
The rest of the world is shaking its head at the convulsions we are having over this matter that every other developed country has already settled. What’s the solution? Simple – single-payer health insurance, like they have in the UK. How do we pay for it? Again, simple – we’re already paying enough in taxes for it. 58% of all healthcare expenses in this country are paid for by the taxpayers. That’s more than total spending on health care in all but three other countries. We could indemnify everybody in the country and save billions.
I know, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. But there is plenty we could do right now to rein in soaring medical costs that threaten to bankrupt us all, without revamping the entire system. If Medicare would pay the same prices for prescription drugs the Veterans’ Administration currently pays, that right there would save us three hundred billion dollars over the next ten years.
Yes, I know, the drug companies did agree to roll back their prices by eighty billion dollars, in exchange for the White House agreeing not to seek deeper cuts. But if they’re gouging us out of three hundred billion dollars, and giving us back eighty billion, that’s not such a good deal, now is it?
Even that three hundred billion dollar figure is a lowball estimate, because there’s plenty more we could be doing to cut the cost of prescription drugs. Currently, in order for a drug to be approved by the FDA, all that is required is two clinical studies showing the drug to be better than a placebo -- in other words, better than nothing. There is no requirement that new drugs be any more effective than existing generic ones, or for that matter, better than some home remedy your great-grandma could have cooked up on her kitchen stove. If we required that new medicines be shown to be better than old medicines before they could be approved, that would save untold billions.
We also ought to forbid Medicare from indemnifying any drug which is advertised. There is no good reason why the taxpayers should be paying for the drug companies’ advertising budgets.
While we’re at it, why don’t we stop Medicare from paying doctors to refer patients to diagnostic centers owned by the same doctors who are making the referral in the first place?
But getting serious about cutting soaring medical costs entails taking on wealthy and entrenched special interests. And so far, Obama has shown no desire to do such a thing. It’s much easier to attack the uninsured, a group of Americans who are just scraping by as it is, who lack the time and the money and the knowledge to lobby the system for their own benefit.
It’s all very sad. Less than a year ago, in a triumph of hope over fear, the people chose a young African-American community organizer and first-term senator to be their president. I assume the reason they elected him was because they were tired of the same ol’ same ol’, because they thought here was a man who would stand up for the people against rapacious corporate interests. And at every step of the way, he’s backed down and kowtowed to those same corporate interests.
The whole spectacle calls to mind the closing lines of Orwell’s Animal Farm:
“ The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
All photos via Wikimedia Commons