The New York Times reports that the trade group of for-profit hospitals now supports the trendy idea of forcing every American to indenture themselves to private insurance corporations—perhaps because they fear genuine, SinglePayer healthcare reform? Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports just how backward this little trend is, as Washington insiders have moved from debating how to provide universal care for everyone (as in the ‘90s) to how to purchase universal private insurance. That’s not what the American public wants or needs. Good news in the states, as Kentucky endorses SinglePayer, Louisiana proves the value of public healthcare, and Texas fights to protect nurses from predatory hospital chains.
You’ll find the plan by the Federation of American Hospitals sounds pretty familiar:
The proposal, which the hospital group hopes might eventually find its way into federal legislation, would require individuals to take coverage through employers, when health benefits are offered; purchase it on their own, or if they are eligible, to receive it through existing government programs. ...
Charles N. Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said his group’s proposal was meant to influence the growing national debate on insurance reform. The hope is to enact legislation, he said, but not until after the 2008 election.
The proposal is intended to build on the existing employer-based plans that cover 160 million people; on Medicare, which covers 36 million older or disabled people , and on Medicaid and children’s programs that cover an additional 35.9 million.
That’s right, it’s the idea of extending private, employer-based healthcare system through employer and individual mandates. This is the idea first proposed by Mitt Romney, with different versions taken up by Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Edwards.
These mandates will swell insurance industry profits while ensuring that costs continue to skyrocket and healthcare equality remains elusive. Remember, it’s not just the 47 million Americans without insurance who are being hurt by our dysfunctional system, it’s the 175 million or so Americans with private insurance who are also being hurt by financial risk for inadequate care.
Oh, and in case you don’t think the insurers will love this plan:
Mr. Kahn, who goes by the nickname Chip, is a longtime strategist in Washington health care debates. During the Clinton administration he was the head of the insurance lobbying group that sponsored the provocative “Harry and Louise” television ads that helped derail Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plan to overhaul the health insurance system.
“The main lesson of 1993 and 1994,” Mr. Kahn said, “is don’t disturb what people already have.”
So: these individual mandates are premised on the idea that we DON’T really need change in our healthcare system. This is the “much more of the same philosophy”—and a surefire political loser given Americans' desperate need for change.
Worst of all, these mandate plans divert the true debate over how we can change to provide quality care for all patients. Check out this ideologue:
Joseph Antos, a pro-market health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, agreed that there was “a consensus building that we need to do something about health insurance in this country.”
Not healthcare--health insurance. This consensus is building, but not among the American people. It’s among Washington insiders, many of them on the payroll of the insurance industry and all of them out-of-touch with the increasing burden that healthcare puts on everyday Americans. Let’s turn to reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in the Los Angeles Times:
"In the 1990s, everybody talked about complete, comprehensive coverage for everybody. Now there is more discussion of a minimal or basic package," said Robert Blendon, a public opinion expert at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Today, we are talking about requiring people to purchase insurance — and in many cases pay a substantial share of the premium — and that did not exist in the 1990s."
Bingo. We’re talking about requiring people to pay high premiums, deductibles AND co-pays with low lifetimes caps. That’s reform?
"Employers seem to be out of ideas," said healthcare consultant John Sheils, a vice president of the Lewin Group. "More and more, we are seeing employers move toward a defined contribution model, where they give money to the workers and the workers go get coverage themselves. Employers really seem to want to get out of this thing."
The new approach can work for relatively young and healthy workers and families who have only routine medical problems.
Getting adequate coverage on a limited budget becomes more difficult for those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease, which require expensive treatment and medications.
"The ideal of an individual mandate has been around for a long time as a way of talking about coverage that is a disguise for inadequate subsidies," said Judith Feder, professor and dean of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and a 2006 Democratic congressional candidate. "Any time you see it, you want to look at the context in which it is emerging."
Given that George Bush has so little credibility left on healthcare (see Harris poll in yesterday’s Wall St. Journal), you would think that the Democratic candidates for President would stand up to him and his allies like Romney to fight for a healthcare model that is based on patient care, not insurance profit? Wrong. Bill Richardson today jumped aboard the Romney train, supporting a plan “like Massachusetts.” Edwards had hopped on earlier, as has Giuliani and McCain. No word yet if Clinton or Obama (or Dodd, Biden, Vilsack) support universal care or universal insurance, although Wes Clark and Dennis Kucinich have been long supporters of SinglePayer healthcare.
Elsewhere, the Kentucky Assembly today endorsed HR 676, John Conyers’ Medicare for All bill, the nation’s signature SinglePayer bill. Go Kentucky! Louisiana is using the public health system to invest in the prevention of diabetes. What’s the upshot? Just this year alone, they think they’ve saved $200 to $300 million. More proof: we’re spending enough money on healthcare, the private sector just can’t spend it wisely. And Texans, did you know that your nurses can be fired for standing up for you? And they can be assigned an unlimited number of patients—meaning they might not be there when you call? Well a new bill sponsored by the National Nurses Organizing Committee aims to change that, and put our focus back on care not insurance profits.