Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why We Need Health Care Reform

Our nation is now engaged in a great debate about the future of health care in America. And over the past few weeks, much of the media attention has been focused on the loudest voices. What we haven’t heard are the voices of the millions upon millions of Americans who quietly struggle every day with a system that often works better for the health-insurance companies than it does for them.

I don’t have to explain to the nearly 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance how important this is. But it’s just as important for Americans who do have health insurance.

There are four main ways the reform we’re proposing will provide more stability and security to every American.

First, if you don’t have health insurance, you will have a choice of high-quality, affordable coverage for yourself and your family — coverage that will stay with you whether you move, change your job or lose your job.

Second, reform will finally bring skyrocketing health care costs under control, which will mean real savings for families, businesses and our government. We’ll cut hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies that do nothing to improve care and everything to improve their profits.

, by making Medicare more efficient, we’ll be able to ensure that more tax dollars go directly to caring for seniors instead of enriching insurance companies. This will not only help provide today’s seniors with the benefits they’ve been promised; it will also ensure the long-term health of Medicare for tomorrow’s seniors. And our reforms will also reduce the amount our seniors pay for their prescription drugs.

, reform will provide every American with some basic consumer protections that will finally hold insurance companies accountable. A 2007 national survey actually shows that insurance companies discriminated against more than 12 million Americans in the previous three years because they had a pre-existing illness or condition. The companies either refused to cover the person, refused to cover a specific illness or condition or charged a higher premium.

We will put an end to these practices. Our reform will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of your medical history. Nor will they be allowed to drop your coverage if you get sick. They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. And we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because they get sick.

Most important, we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups, preventive care and screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and prostate cancer on the front end. It makes sense, it saves lives and it can also save money.

This is what reform is about. If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health care decisions but you and your doctor — not government bureaucrats, not insurance companies.

The long and vigorous debate about health care that’s been taking place over the past few months is a good thing. It’s what America’s all about.

But let’s make sure that we talk with one another, and not over one another. We are bound to disagree, but let’s disagree over issues that are real, and not wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that anyone has actually proposed. This is a complicated and critical issue, and it deserves a serious debate.

Despite what we’ve seen on television, I believe that serious debate is taking place at kitchen tables all across America. In the past few years, I’ve received countless letters and questions about health care. Some people are in favor of reform, and others have concerns. But almost everyone understands that something must be done. Almost everyone knows that we must start holding insurance companies accountable and give Americans a greater sense of stability and security when it comes to their health care.

I am confident that when all is said and done, we can forge the consensus we need to achieve this goal. We are already closer to achieving health-insurance reform than we have ever been. We have the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association on board, because our nation’s nurses and doctors know firsthand how badly we need reform. We have broad agreement in Congress on about 80 percent of what we’re trying to do. And we have an agreement from the drug companies to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The AARP supports this policy, and agrees with us that reform must happen this year.

In the coming weeks, the cynics and the naysayers will continue to exploit fear and concerns for political gain. But for all the scare tactics out there, what’s truly scary — truly risky — is the prospect of doing nothing. If we maintain the status quo, we will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Premiums will continue to skyrocket. Our deficit will continue to grow. And insurance companies will continue to profit by discriminating against sick people.

That is not a future I want for my children, or for yours. And that is not a future I want for the United States of America.

In the end, this isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives and livelihoods. This is about people’s businesses. This is about America’s future, and whether we will be able to look back years from now and say that this was the moment when we made the changes we needed, and gave our children a better life. I believe we can, and I believe we will.

Barack Obama
The New York Times


Chronic said...

Let’s talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Chronic said...

IN the 1980s, I worked as a respiratory therapist in intensive-care units in the Midwest, taking care of elderly, dying patients on ventilators. I remember marveling, along with the young doctors and nurses I worked with, over how many millions of dollars were spent performing insanely expensive procedures, scans and tests on patients who would never regain consciousness or leave the hospital.

When the insurance ran out, or Medicare stopped paying, patients and their families gave the hospital liens on their homes to pay for this care. Families spent their entire savings so Grandma could make yet another trip to the surgical suite on the slim-to-none chance that bypass surgery, a thoracotomy, an endoscopy or kidney dialysis might get her off the ventilator and out of the hospital in time for her 88th birthday.

That was back in the mid-’80s, when the nation was spending around 8 percent of its gross domestic product on health care. I and other health care workers solemnly agreed that the spending spree could not continue. Taxpayers and insurance companies would eventually revolt and refuse to pay for such end-of-life care. Somebody would surely expose the ruse for what it was: an enormous transfer of wealth based on the pretense that getting old and dying is a medical emergency requiring high-tech intensive-care intervention and armies of specialists, which could cost $10,000 or more per day. (Europeans have so far resisted this delusion, one reason they spend much less than we do on health care, with far better results.)

But we were wrong. Health care spending has since doubled, to around 16 percent of our gross domestic product, and in the next 25 years or so is projected to reach 31 percent of G.D.P. Despite having those figures in hand, Congress might still pass legislation calling for spending more, not less, on health care, even though we’ve been told for decades that what we spend has almost nothing to do with the quality of care we receive.

With so much evidence of wasteful and even harmful treatment, shouldn’t we instantly cut some of the money spent on exorbitant intensive-care medicine for dying, elderly people and redirect it to pediatricians and obstetricians offering preventive care for children and mothers? Sadly, we are very far from this goal. A cynic would argue that this can’t happen because children can’t vote (even if their parents can), whereas members of AARP and the American Medical Association not only vote but can also hire lobbyists to keep the money flowing.

One thing’s for sure: Our health care system has failed. Generational spending wars loom on the horizon. Rationing of health care is imminent. But given the political inertia, we could soon find ourselves in a triage situation in which there is no time or money to create medical-review boards to ponder cost-containment issues or rationing schemes. We’ll be forced to implement quick-and-dirty rules based on something simple, sensible and easily verifiable. Like age. As in: No federal funds to be spent on intensive-care medicine for anyone over 85.

I am not, of course, talking about euthanasia. I’m just wondering why the nation continues incurring enormous debt to pay for bypass surgery and titanium-knee replacements for octogenarians and nonagenarians, when for just a small fraction of those costs we could provide children with preventive health care and nutrition. Eight million children have no health insurance, but their parents pay 3 percent of their salaries to Medicare to make sure that seniors get the very best money can buy in prescription drugs for everything from restless leg syndrome to erectile dysfunction, scooters and end-of-life intensive care.

Sir William Osler, widely revered as the father of modern medicine, said, “One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.” Perhaps the second duty should be to administer an ounce of prevention instead of a pound of cure.

Richard Dooling
Author of Critical Care

Chronic said...

It’s never a contest when the interests of big business are pitted against the public interest. So if we manage to get health care “reform” this time around it will be the kind of reform that benefits the very people who have given us a failed system, and thus made reform so necessary.

Forget about a crackdown on price-gouging drug companies and predatory insurance firms. That’s not happening. With the public pretty well confused about what is going on, we’re headed — at best — toward changes that will result in a lot more people getting covered, but that will not control exploding health care costs and will leave industry leaders feeling like they’ve hit the jackpot.

The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.)

Insurance companies are delighted with the way “reform” is unfolding. Think of it: The government is planning to require most uninsured Americans to buy health coverage. Millions of young and healthy individuals will be herded into the industry’s welcoming arms. This is the population the insurers drool over.

This additional business — a gold mine — will more than offset the cost of important new regulations that, among other things, will prevent insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions or imposing lifetime limits on benefits. Poor people will either be funneled into Medicaid, which will have its eligibility ceiling raised, or will receive a government subsidy to help with the purchase of private insurance.

If the oldest and sickest are on Medicare, and the poorest are on Medicaid, and the young and the healthy are required to purchase private insurance without the option of a competing government-run plan — well, that’s reform the insurance companies can believe in.

The White House, for its part, agreed not to seek additional savings from the drug companies over those 10 years. This resulted in big grins and high fives at the drug lobby. The White House was rolled. The deal meant that the government’s ability to use its enormous purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices was off the table.

The $80 billion in savings (in the form of discounts) would apply only to a certain category of Medicare recipients — those who fall into a gap in their drug coverage known as the doughnut hole — and only to brand-name drugs. (Drug industry lobbyists probably chuckled, knowing that some patients would switch from generic drugs to the more expensive brand names in order to get the industry-sponsored discounts.)

The bonanza to come would be even larger, he said, “given all the Boomers who will be enrolling in Medicare over the next decade.”

While it is undoubtedly important to bring as many people as possible under the umbrella of health coverage, the way it is being done now does not address what President Obama and so many other advocates have said is a crucial component of reform — bringing the ever-spiraling costs of health care under control. Those costs, we’re told, are hamstringing the U.S. economy, making us less competitive globally and driving up the budget deficit.

Giving consumers the choice of an efficient, nonprofit, government-run insurance plan would have moved us toward real cost control, but that option has gone a-glimmering. The public deserves better. The drug companies, the insurance industry and the rest of the corporate high-rollers have their tentacles all over this so-called reform effort, squeezing it for all it’s worth.

Bob Herbert
The New York Times

Carl said...

Uhhh, my ass don't feel good.

Could you put one of them there thingies on it?

Yeah the ones with the cream.

Ahh yeah, oooh! That hits the spot!

Carl Brutananadilewski
South Jersey.

umopapisdnpuaq said...

Just the fact that 'Lobbyist' is a real, prestigious, well paid, job position makes me weep inside.

It's really good to see Obama with his head not in the sand and not only understanding the wider and smaller issues, but voicing them too.

It really is usually a debate about who can shout the loudest with the most money/lobbyists.

This is why politics is shunned by so many. Even if you elect a person you want to represent you, they will be bombarded so much by paid interests that whatever they do about an issue, it could look like they caved to lobbying because both sides will be at it.

And the 'winning' side will claim victory because of their superior lobbying.

So much doesn't make sense but the best people can do is just keep trying to patch things so it all doesn't fall apart.

His Noodly Appendage said...

These industries are prepared to spend over $200 million (a few days of profit) to defeat any real reform. For the most part, Americans who are covered like their pay or die system, they really couldn't care about everyone else. We are not compassionate people and therefore will not demand universal health care.

Chronic said...

Interesting theory, sadly I cant really say I disagree with your assessment.