Posts Tagged ‘health reform’

How Obama Handled Health Summit

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The Health Care Summit 2/26/10
Now That Health Myths are Busted,
It’s Now or Never for Reform

By John F. Wasik

Remember that old Elvis song “It’s now or never,” a cheesy version of “O Sole Mio?” That should be the Democrats’ theme song after the Feb. 25 health-care summit.
Top Democrats made their case for the umpteenth time. The Republicans somewhat agreed with them on the need for expanding markets across state lines and consumer protection, but differed in the way to approach reform.
I watched most of the proceedings, which was neither a debate nor deal making. If both parties eventually decide to do something together, this forum will have laid the groundwork for a compromise.
One thing was crystal clear: Republican leaders wanted to tear up both the House and Senate versions and start over, a move that would surely wreck any progress and set legislation back years. It makes no sense since the basic principles of why reform is needed are in place on both sides.
“The nature of the industry is terrible,” noted Senator Jay Rockefeller, who was disappointed there was no public option on the table. “Insurers are looking for reasons to kick you out — 44 of 50 states deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.”
How bad are industry abuses? Insurers can deny coverage, clip benefits and raise rates for any reason. In one state, even being a victim of domestic violence is considered a pre-existing condition.
As long as claims are viewed by the industry as “losses,” patients and insurers will have an adversarial relationship. This is immoral. Health care should be a human right that we recognize and protect. No profit should be made on human suffering.
The situation is getting worse by the day, so Democrats need to act quickly before they get sucked into the maw of election-year politics. Some 6 people daily are dying due to lack of insurance. About 14,000 lose their insurance every 24 hours. Nothing in the private sector is going to help these folks. Only if you are desperately poor, a veteran or old will you get any help. The indigent now get better care than working, middle-class Americans who don’t have employers offering health care.
At the very least, President Obama and his Democratic colleagues did a good job at myth busting and established a clear path forward:
• There are no free-market solutions in the Democrats’ plans. In lieu of a public option that would offer competition, creating insurance exchanges across state lines would create a true national market — if companies are regulated closely. Democrats and Republicans both agree on this.
• No government entity will take over health care. The feds won’t run clinics, scrutinize treatments, deny coverage or run hospitals. The private sector remains in place. Ironically, though, more people get their health care from government agencies now than from for-profit companies.
• Simply offering better health-savings accounts “to create better health consumers” (as the GOP suggests) is dead on arrival. It does nothing to reduce costs and individuals have no bargaining power. This scheme works best for the wealthy as supplemental savings vehicles.
• Creating more “high-risk pools” for the sickest and most vulnerable is also a bad idea. In states where these “insurance ghettos” are offered, the costs are sky-high and the most chronically ill are segregated. You need a broad, national pool to spread out the costs.
• Reining in medical malpractice claims is worth studying, but it’s largely a red herring. As Senator Dick Durbin pointed out, one-fifth of 1% of total health care costs involve malpractice costs. That’s a drop in the bucket when Medicare itself is expected to be insolvent in just 8 years.
• Health reform costs too much. It will be too costly to do nothing. Medical bills are the reason for 62% of bankruptcies, according to the American Journal of Medicine. Even if a new entitlement program is created, if it’s not set up to reduce costs and cover more people, our global competitiveness will continue to decline and more of the federal budget will be spent on health care.

Even if Democrats have to push reform through a reconciliation measure with 51 votes, they should do it. Inaction will cost them much more at the polls in November. It’s now or never. People are dying over this.

John F. Wasik is the author of The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream (

The Dark Future of US Healthcare

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

This is a guest blog on health care I did for Huffington Post following President Obama’s 9/9 speech to Congress:

If a meaningful health reform plan doesn’t pass, life in the U.S. will be inhumane and our country will begin to look like Great Britain after World War I — hobbled and facing unrelenting poverty.
As I discovered in researching my new book Audacity of Help: Obama’s Economic Plan and the Remaking of America (, for an individual family, medical insurance now claims 20 percent of median income. That’s compared to 8 percent in 1987, according to the New America Foundation (, a progressive research organization in Washington.

“If we do not make health insurance more affordable,” states the Foundation in its ‘Next Social Contract’ report, “a majority of working Americans will be uninsured by 2020.”

Those who are worried about health care or medical bills are not productive members of society. We may have socialized medicine for the near-poor, unemployed and uninsured. But it’s the costliest and most inefficient care imaginable. Millions of pets receive better care.

Employers who don’t offer coverage are less competitive in a global marketplace. Uninsured workers end up in emergency rooms — or simply call 911 — demanding costly care that taxpayers will ultimately finance.

Aside from the numbers that are repeated ad nauseum, there is a darker reality brewing.

If nothing is done, life expectancies will drop in the U.S., more employers will go out of business and we will bankrupt ourselves while the Chinese and Indians create a clean energy industry, produce jobs, vacuum up global capital and raise their living standard. Uninsured and under-insured Americans visit doctors less frequently, pay more for care and have the highest rate of preventable deaths before age 75.

This Hobbesian vision springs to mind because we have failed to declare health care a basic human right. It should be an amendment to our constitution. Until we do that, you won’t have a moral/political basis for core principles. If Teddy Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were alive today, I’d bet they would agree with me.

President Obama’s health care speech last night was a mere template for reform, though, and not the actual article. The legislation we need has to come from a Congress willing to defy the status quo, insurance companies and show some leadership for the future.

Of course we need protection from the “pre-existing condition” and “drop you if you’re sick” scams the insurers have been getting away with for years. That should be the bedrock of any legislation.

Then there’s the flawed system that few have discussed: the lack of a strong cop over the insurance industry. Federal regulation is needed — a combination of the US Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Right now, weak state regulators not only turn a blind eye to the worst practices, they greenlight most rate increases. I know because I’ve been a victim of these abuses.

Insurers should also be held legally accountable for any abuses and should be prosecuted by effective watchdogs.

New federal regulation also can effectively create a national marketplace for insurance. At present, you can’t sell insurance across state lines. The companies like it that way because they often indirectly control state regulators and legislatures. They’d rather have 50 inspector Clouseaus watching them.

I’m not sure if President Obama’s “insurance marketplace” is the same thing as a national market pitting every insurer against each other to offer the best policy at the lowest price, but it should be.

Even so, the president’s “exchange” doesn’t kick in until 2013. In the interim, a high-risk pool will cover what the industry calls “uninsurable” policyholders. This is fraught with peril since state insurance pools can be unaffordable as well. I know people who’ve been in them. Small pools of sick people are rotten ideas. You have to spread risks around in a huge, diverse pool. And that’s what a national marketplace would do.

Independent commissions, which the White House has proposed, should seriously examine the fee-for-service system and study capping what providers charge in a public-private model.

As medical researcher Dr. Richard Moore stated in a recent paper: “there should be no profit in medical care. Doctors, nurses and technicians should be well paid, but no one should make a profit nor should any administrators receive those obscene salaries running up into the millions per year.”

If you consider health care to be an essential human service like a fire or police department, it makes no moral sense to make a profit from human suffering. Health care is civil, gender, age, disability and children’s rights all rolled into one issue. We can address this now. We all deserve better.

Author Bio
John F. Wasik, author of The Audacity of Help: Obama’s Economic Plan and the Remaking of America, is the author of twelve books, including The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome and The Merchant of Power. He speaks widely and writes a weekly Bloomberg News column that reaches readers of five continents and which earned him the 2009 Peter Lisagor award for journalism. He lives in Chicago.