Thursday, July 23, 2009

Health Matters

At the risk of repeating myself . . .

I'm going to continue this topic for one more day, mainly to encourage you to read all the insightful comments that follow my last two posts. They are evidence that health care reform deserves a healthy debate.

Our country has a fabulous opportunity right now to create a more perfect plan. People like Diane, Keri, Annie and Beck (just some of my knowledgeable readers) along with many others, can share their experiences about what works and what doesn't work in Canada and elsewhere. Differing opinions are vital. When the conversation concludes, hopefully congress will come up with something uniquely American.

I just finished work on a book about Nazi Germany where people were in danger of being arrested if they voiced their disagreement with the government. Neighbors and even family members spied on each other to catch the rebels. Freedom of speech, and freedom of expression were dead. It's hard to imagine the distrust and fear of such a time.

Ronni Bennett, of Time Goes By, quoted A. J. Liebling: "freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." Ronni went on to say, "Freedom of the press still belongs to those who own one, and blogging means practically anyone can own one . . . with blogging we designate a fairly beautiful thing: the extension to many more people of a free press franchise, the right to publish your thoughts to the world." I love having that right.

My anonymous friend "risked my contempt" (his/her words—I never feel contempt) by challenging my own experiences with health-care. He said my attitude seemed very hostile. What nonsense! The whole point of this debate is to find some answers to  an overwhelming problem. Anonymous said, "as I am sure you know, there are ways to get it (health-care), they may just be unacceptable to you."

I truly don't know!! What are the ways?? I'm not trying to push any agenda or political party. The unacceptable thing (to me) is the status quo. Does this ghostly person have a number for me to call (that I haven't already called) or an insurance company that doesn't care about pre-existing conditions? Does she have a friend who beat the system somehow? Don't hide the answers along with your identity! 

And, Anonymous, why would I be less candid if you had revealed your identity? I am the one with my name all over this blog every day! My every thought is floating through cyberspace as a public record. I had a letter to the editor published in the newspaper yesterday, with my semi-private opinion available to anyone; I am obnoxiously candid, an open book, sometimes interesting, sometimes boring. 

You're the mystery person. I'd be as open on this subject with a trustworthy stranger as I would be with any of my kids, (most of whom would fall on the other side of the debate.) 

Hmmm . . . Suddenly I'm wondering . . . Are you one of my kids? You sound smart, wordy, lawyerly, young, cocky . . . One of  my sons is totally in favor of me becoming a greeter at Walmart to get on their insurance plan . . . is that the idea I already know about that is unacceptable to me??

Hey! Am I on Candid Topics? Is someone going to jump out of my computer and give me $1,000,000,000 to donate to the children's hospital?  (Anonymous, don't be insulted that I'm comparing you to one of my kids. They're all scholarly and brilliant and like to disprove my theories. It's a compliment.)  

Don't worry. I don't know how to do the site meter thing and at this point you're more interesting anonymously.  I'll try to sound more intelligent to everyone I meet now, knowing it could be you.  (I'd rather think of you as someone I know and love, who's just toying with me, than as somebody who thinks I'm hostile or contemptuous.  I'm assuming you're someone I like.)  We'll never know.

Thanks, everybody for a healthy discussion.


Anonymous said...

For the record, no, I am not one of your kids, although I thank you for the high compliment. And I was not the second anonymous commenter on yesterday's post, either, although whoever it was had a much gentler approach than I am known for.
Yes, the ways to get insurance were similar to what your son has suggested, and although I know that many of us would have to swallow a lot of pride to take a job like that (me included), it is a viable solution, although not desirable.  But then, what are we willing to sacrifice for health care?  So much of the population does not realize that SOMEONE will have to pay for a national health care plan, and do you know what Obama's plan is?  That those in the $250,000 or higher income bracket will be taxed more to offset the costs of this new insurance plan because they can afford to "give" more.  But taxation is not voluntary, making his use of the term "give" inaccurate at best and communistic at worst.  What we are saying, then, is that we are willing to take freedom of choice away from a class of people in order to pay for our healthcare over swallowing our pride and taking a menial, if not degrading job in order to pay for it ourselves.  According to Christlike principles, freedom to choose is paramount.  This is exactly what I was attempting to point out when I quoted Elder Benson: "Forced benevolence is not charity."  He is taking freedom of choice away from those in that higher income bracket (of which, for the record, I DO NOT fall into by any means).   Is that then "justice" (as Keri(th) would suggest) because it creates equality?  Freedom to choose is a not only a right guaranteed by our own government, but a god-given right.  Removing someone's right to choose is a plan instigated by Lucifer, and careful attention should be paid to how much of Obama's "solutions" remove that god-given right.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and if you were in the running for a million dollars, I certainly wouldn't make you donate it to a local children's hospital unless they guaranteed you free health care/prescriptions for the rest of your life!   (I'm not sure they'd have exactly what you need by way of doctors, but they might be more entertaining and have a lot better bedside manner than most!)

Sco said...

Marty - your son-in-law Sco here.

I just wrote a response that's too long for one post. So I'm going to break it up into smaller posts.

Yes, our system needs change; there's no doubt about it. My opinion is that the problems are so huge that a large or sweeping change is required to fix everything. And as far as I understand (and I'm not the most educated on the many and various issues involved) it's impossible to come up with a solution that can be explained by a blog post, or a comment on a blog post. Every solution like "universal healthcare" and "cheaper prescriptions" sound great in the press, but there are huge negative impacts that come along with such "solutions." I don't think there's a silver bullet. "Universal healthcare" and a healthcare system more like France, Canada or Great Britain means vastly increasing taxes. It's not an easy question of who would pay for it, because someone would. It would also likely mean our most promising intellectual talent to leave the medical field and work in something that gets them more money. And it may likely mean longer wait times to get doctor appointments.

Everyone's for the option that costs themselves less money and gives them better healthcare. That solution is different for everyone's situation. And usually there are economic winners and losers in any change. It's a very divisive topic, and very difficult for any president on which to get anything significantly changed (recently Bush Jr. and Clinton).

Full disclosure: I'm employed by a small-ish company (75 employees or so). Our health insurance costs are crazy high. We pay about $340/month for the lower of 2 insurance coverage options. I'm very happy that we're able to get coverage. MY COMPANY COVERS ANOTHER $600 OR SO A MONTH FOR MY COVERAGE!!! Basically $1,000 / month for the health insurance coverage my family and I are thankful to have. Does that sound like everyone in America can have this? No way, it's just too expensive. This is why companies scale back on what they cover - their resources aren't big enough to keep up with skyrocketing costs. And our premiums go up about 10% (or more) every year. And my wife and I and our 3 daughters happen to be healthy right now (knock on wood).

And there's so much money in healthcare, that sweeping change won't happen. The only reason I say that is because opposition to a sweeping change would be ENORMOUS from those that stand to lose $$$. And with any sweeping change, there will be a lot of people who end up with less $$$. We're going to be stuck with incremental change that no one will be happy with (except for the incremental % of the population who's better off under an incremental change).

My beef with the current bills being debated in Congress is that 1) they still leave a ton of people uninsured, 2) the solution is to tax and spend. Yes, it's an incremental "solution." In my opinion, the "solution" doesn't address underlying causes, but just dumps more money into a broken system. I don't think that's going to fix anything in the long term, but it would be good to get more people covered. The next fix in 5 years will be to just dump more $$ into the same broken system (with incremental changes). Seems like a flushing toilet to me...

(see continued in my next post)

Sco said...

Post #2 from Sco (continued from previous post) -

I would rather see some solutions that address underlying causes, such as:

1. Better healthcare results at a lower cost. The US has really sunk in recent world ratings in desired healthcare outcomes per dollar of cost. For a country that prides itself on healthcare innovation and new solutions, that fact really sucks. We should be able to be close to #1 in the world if not #1 in the world at providing the best cost-effective healthcare solutions.

We sometimes seem to seek for the latest and greatest technological healthcare solution, which also happens to be the most expensive, instead of a going with more tried-and-true methods. Drug reps and medical equipment reps influencing doctors, doctors' reimbursements from insurance companies (paid for a procedure instead of a desired result), and attitudes that you don't have to pay since your insurance will pay, all feed into this.

2. Revised compensation to doctors to more closely align doctors' compensation with what we all want - results - instead of compensating them (and thereby incentivizing them) to perform more procedures, see more patients during a day, etc...

3. Higher deductible insurance plans, so that we as consumers of healthcare will have more incentive to shop for a good solution at a good value. We'll be more price sensitive. My wife and I are now on such a plan (my company changed our insurance plan with IHC about 6 months ago in order to lower costs this last year - we didn't have a choice in the matter, really. And for the record, it's been a fine change so far.). And we have become more price sensitive and have asked doctors how much that will cost us, and when we hear an answer that's expensive, we ask for alternatives that give us a good result at a lower cost. I'm going to guess that we've incurred about $1,500 less this year (less money paid by an insurance company, hopefully translating into lower premiums in the future) just from being more price sensitive.

No, we will never be able to shop for healthcare as easily as we shop for homes or cars. We just don't have the knowledge base that doctors have. There's an information asymmetry between the provider and the consumer in healthcare, and that information imbalance will never go away. However, if we are more price sensitive, we're going to be asking our doctors more questions about different procedures that could be done for a lower cost, all in the name of getting a better result at a better cost (better value). We won't just walk in and say yes to receiving a Cadillac-costing procedure for the $30 cost of a co-pay for a visit.

4. More acceptance in the general population that doctors and medicine can't solve everyone healthcare issue in 1 hour and restore you to perfect health 100% of the time. Doctors are people and are helping you to the best of their ability 99.9% of the time, and healthcare issues can be complicated. And there are a lot of conditions that have no cures (unfortunately).

5. Less litigation, and perhaps formula driven ranges (not exact amounts) for damages related to medical mistakes (when doctors are grossly negligent).

(see continued in next post)

Sco said...

Post #3 (continued from previous post) -

6. Sweeping change in insurance laws, specifically in defining insurance pools. It's ridiculous that employees of huge companies have access to good insurance plans that are cheap, and just because I work at a small employer (approx 75 employees), my cost for the same type of coverage costs a lot more. How is that fair? And how is that common sense? Yes, insurance companies are pricing risk in a defined insurance pool. But the price differences are merely driven by insurance laws and how people can legally be grouped into insurance pools (if I understand the basics correctly). Why can't states designate their entire citizenship as the insurance pool, and have insurance companies write policies for that huge pool? Or give the general population access to the same insurance coverage that our Representatives and Senators receive? I'm not extremely knowledgeable about pricing health insurance, and I'm pretty sure that there would have to be some kind of pricing tiers (at least for healthcare costs that are under our control by the choices we make - smoking vs. non-smoking for example), but couldn't state laws also require pre-existing conditions to be covered?

7. This change would actually hurt me, but it makes sense (at least to me). There's a tax break that employees of companies receive that self-employed people do not get. I'm not taxed on the the approximately $600 each month that my company pays for my health insurance premium. Self-employed people basically get taxed on that $600 amount. That's not fair. Fix that tax break so that employees of a company and self-employed individuals are on a level playing field when purchasing health insurance.

Whew. Sorry for the long comment. I've tried to not rant and rave - hopefully I've come across in the manner I intended.

Anyway, those are the 7 things I want to see addressed first in healthcare reform. Some of the items I've mentioned above can't be solved by legislation, or by legislation alone. I don't think government can solve this issue by itself. And the more money that the government takes from us in taxes to "reform healthcare", the more accountability they should have and will have to the American taxpayers. But let's face it - government is an important part of the solution, but not the only part of the solution. And how much input do our opinions really have in Congress after a bill is passed? Voting incumbents out over their voting record and public pressure over their positions and actions are about the only things stopping existing bills from just getting bigger in their scope and $$ outlays.

Congressmen and women most likely (and hopefully) receive more complete information regarding the situation and what can be done to fix the situation. However, the "solutions" being produced by them are poor fixes, at least in my opinion. They're expensive stop-gaps that make for good soundbites in the media ("more universal coverage") that Congressmen and women are using to make themselves and/or their political party look better. Crappy (but classic) posturing and politics.

I'm hopefully optimistic that incremental changes will get us there over the next 15-20 years. I don't think a quick fix is practically possible. There's just too much to change, and too much money involved. Hopefully I'm wrong about that. I'm also concerned that the system will really have to break down before we see some of these needed changes. Hopefully I'm also wrong about that.

I know that I want my current healthcare coverage at a cheaper cost. And it's just not right that certain people aren't able to get affordable insurance under their current situations. What's fair about that?

We need the right kind of healthcare reform, and hopefully we'll get it. If we don't (in each of our opinions), we have the duty to voice our opinions and to also exercise our right to vote.


Sco said...

Ignore this post, I'm just posting this so I can select "email follow-up comments" since I forgot to select that on my previous posts.


Sco said...

An interesting read:

The following is Wikipedia, so realize it's limitations, but it's a decent summary:

Travelin'Oma said...

Comment on son-in-law Sco:
Am I the luckiest MIL around?
This is the kind of stuff my kids talk about around the campfire! I have the most interesting, well-informed group, right in my own family.

Thanks for reading!

Holly Jahangiri said...

I love your dialogue with "Anonymous." And your open-mindedness, your willingness to discuss and debate without turning everything into an argument or a personal attack.