Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's so great about private health insurance?

The bloody battle in Congress over a 'public option' ignores the insurers' role in creating the nation's healthcare crisis and their efforts to throttle reform.
by Michael Hiltzik
Throughout the heroic struggle in Congress to provide a "public option" in health insurance, one question never seems to get answered: Why are we so intent on protecting the private option?

The "public option," as followers of the debate know, is a government-sponsored health plan that would be available as an alternative to, and in competition with, the for-profit health insurance industry, otherwise known as the private option.
On Friday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce narrowly passed a reform bill incorporating a public option resembling Medicare. It was a bloody fight among members of Congress, some of whom believe that the public option will give the government unwarranted power over healthcare, and all of whom enjoy government-provided healthcare that's a lot better than what most of us get.

But the battle is just beginning. After the committee vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that the health insurance industry will conduct a "shock and awe" campaign to kill the public option when Congress returns from vacation in September and starts debating the measure. We can expect to be overwhelmed with an industry ad campaign worth millions of dollars (remember Harry and Louise?) exhorting us to write our lawmakers to preserve the American way of healthcare.

So it's proper to remind ourselves what that American way entails. For if the insurers have proved anything over the last 15 years as the health crisis has gathered speed like an avalanche roaring downhill, it's that they're part of the problem, not the solution.

The firms take billions of dollars out of the U.S. healthcare wallet as profits, while imposing enormous administrative costs on doctors, hospitals, employers and patients. They've introduced complexity into the system at every level. Your doctor has to fight them to get approval for the treatment he or she thinks is best for you. Your hospital has to fight them for approval for every day you're laid up. Then they have to fight them to get their bills paid, and you do too.

One Wendell Potter reminded a Senate committee in June that health insurance executives had assured Congress in 1993 that they would work to secure universal medical coverage and end denials of coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Then they moved heaven and earth to kill reform.
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