Friday, July 3, 2009

Reform Rx - Recognizing the Opposition

"I happen to be in the camp of great concern that, if we don't have a public option, we won't be able to reform the system." That’s what my Congressperson, Chellie Pingree said in a room full of health care stakeholders in a listening session that included a representative of private insurers. She hears out constituents but takes a straightforward stance. I also had the opportunity to hear her on a full hour MPBN call in conversing in her understanding manner with her ability for candid and open dialog. You know she’s on your side.

So who’s on the side of not supporting a public option? We hear the radio rants and read letters from those fearing the march to socialism. Do they honestly feel that our goals are heartless bureaucratic control of their lives, rationing health care so that they will wallow in illness, and killing free market entrepreneurialism? Well they really are fooled into believing they do but the key to the initial question is “follow the money”.

Following the money is complicated in its details but not in recognizing its beneficiaries. The cash trail directly leads to insurance companies in the multi-trillion dollar health care business. With a great deal of searching, it is difficult to derive the total of US health insurance profits except for a few billion here and several billion there. That information is hidden in company reports that apply enough numbers to satisfy stockholders about the company after tax earnings but fail to disclose the real capital at stake in perpetuating their existence.

It is important to be clear about profits as well. Those after tax earnings do not include all the pre-tax loopholes, high executive salaries with lucrative stock options, administrative inefficiency and dozens of other profit only focused factors that a public option similar to Medicare or the VA system will not need such as huge marketing budgets and denial specialists. Adding up all the money at stake for private insurers makes the mere $28,654,121 given in 2008 campaign donations just to members of Congress look like a rewarding investment.

Thus the radio rants and fear are whipped up by the political power funded by insurance companies. Those involved can’t define their position as being for big insurance company profits, they need to drive it with a philosophy about markets working better and always at ultimate efficiency. And that is exactly what is happening; the ultimate efficiency of those markets is working overtime at preserving their fiefdom of profits.

All this market driven frenzy and supposed efficiency has ignored one thing: our health. It denies care in the name of efficiency; it excludes poor people in the name of markets; it squeezes premiums out of the middle-class in the name of earnings; it serves stockholders in the name of profits in lieu of serving consumers, patients and, health care professionals. Private insurance companies are the opposition, they are precisely what needs to be reformed and they absolutely know that a public plan is that pathway to reform.

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