Friday, February 29, 2008

Health Care and Spuds

This year has turned out to be a whirlwind of political activities related to the U.S. Presidential race. Over the past year since the current contenders threw their respective hats into the ring, Americans have been inundated with political ads, speeches, media reports and more about who is best fit to be #44. Debates over issues concerning the Iraq War, the economy, border security, illegal immigration and other hotly contested items on both the Democratic and Republican political agendas have been front and center in the nightly news, weblogs, newspapers and magazines, and every other possible media outlet short of scribbling on restroom walls. And based upon the topic dujour, we are blasted with soundbytes from all the candidates and other talking heads about who has the best response. The issues change as attention is focused on whatever the various news agencies deem as the lead story of the day.

Currently the big splash is about health care. This hot potato has now been elevated to the top of the political speeches giving a new meaning and twist to the phrase "This spud's for you," (with apologies to Budweiser). And now we have all the TV and radio ads touting how Americans will have all of our health care problems resolved if we only vote for "Senator So-and-So". Why, we won't have to worry about anything anymore! We will have free health care, and free insurance, and free meds. On and on and on it goes--promises made by those who don't have the power to make it happen. Here is the kicker: there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Health care is not free, even to those who receive it and can't or won't pay. Someone always pays for somebody else's medical bills, usually the American taxpayers. Hospitals and medical providers who don't receive payment have to write off the expense, so they pay for it in lost revenues.

We continue to hear the cry for Universal Health Care from politicians and the "disenfranchised" who wish to continue getting entitlements from the U.S. government, a.k.a. the American taxpayers. We are bombarded by political ads all day long about how much our savings will be when we sign on to Universal Health Care model, and how our lives will be changed forever, and by the wonderful care we will receive when the government will pay the doctor bills. One look at Medicare, and you will wish you never heard of Universal Health Care if it becomes the law of the land. And what about enforcement? What if someone decides they don't want to participate. The proposal on the table from the Democratic side is that punishment in the form of fines, penalities and interest (very much like the IRS) will be mandated to collect from those Americans who don't want to be part of this new world insurance order. Can we say Marxism, or Socialism?

For example, the plan promoted by Hillary Clinton has stated that individuals will be required to get and keep insurance in a system where insurance is affordable and accessible. Additionally, employers will help finance the system. How this plan helps Americans is to include more government mandates, expensive federal subsidies and more government oversight and bureaucracy leading to increased wait times, a decrease in patient care and tax hikes to pay for it. The net effect would be a large increase in health insurance premiums for the vast majority of Americans, and health insurance would turn into a subsidy program requiring health insurance as a pre-condition of employment. Not having health insurance would be against the law, just as driving a car without automobile insurance isn't legal. However, to pay for her national program, Hillary needs everyone to have coverage so those revenues can be used to subsidize the coverage of those who are ill. The resulting mandatory plan would force tens of millions of Americans to pay for coverage they do not want and feel they don't need. And what about controlling the cost of this Universal Health Care?

And there is Senator Obama's plan--universal coverage for everyone, but with a twist. A new regulatory agency is proposed that would be responsible for regulating the insurance industry and also administering the new public insurance program he is promoting. The National Health Insurance Exchange would expect participation by the uninsured, the self-employed, and small businesses on one plan and a re-structured insurance market on another. The public plan would be open to everyone who feels they have a disadvantage. The details on the other one are still somewhat sketchy--participation by insurers may or may not be optional. Those that participate will have to offer minimum benefit coverage, put some of their monies into mandatory patient care, will need to justify any substantial increases in premiums, and will not be allowed to discriminate based on personal health history. Employers will have to pay into one or the other of these plan options offered by the new Obama mandate. However, there is one missing component; required participation by all adults is not included in his proposal. There are still unanswered questions about how all this will work, and that is the scary part.

One thing is for sure, though. When handling hot potatoes, it's always a good idea to let them cool off before you bite. In health care, the "take it, or else" mindset is not the best option. Americans don't like to be force fed. The menu should include options that are palatable and don't stink.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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