Somewhere, an evil genius is smiling so hard his face hurts. It might be the same evil genius who came up with a “Mission Accomplished” banner for the background of a speech by George W. Bush — on an aircraft carrier — during a war he started for no reason.
Yeah, I know the banner SAYS “mission accomplished” but I doubt BushCo could have actually pointed to what mission they meant and what, if anything, had actually been accomplished. “Americans love their private health insurance” comes from the same wellspring of evil-genius-strength bullshit.
The core problem with American healthcare is that its emphasis is immediately on the wrong syllable. When anyone walks in the door of the American Healthcare System, the first question isn’t “How can we help you?”, it’s “How are you gonna pay for this?”. If you can’t answer that question satisfactorily, you might just be screwed. But, hey — even if you DO have insurance? Between the co-pays, the deductibles and all the other out-of-pocket bullshit, you could STILL be screwed.
No other civilized healthcare system anywhere on the planet has profit incentive at the core of its healthcare. There’s a reason. Profit incentive and human well-being are completely incompatible when they’re both dependent on the same dollar. A corporation has a fiduciary responsibility to do the very best it possibly can for its investors. That means a choice between an expensive but uncertain procedure that might save a customer’s life (that’s what they are to the insurance company after all — customers) and a happy board of directors able to announce a bigger dividend at the next shareholder’s meeting. Guess who the corporation’s gonna choose?
Like I said — it’s their responsibility to do that. It’s not their fault exactly — it’s history’s. Ever wonder why it is that only in America does anyone’s employer pay for their health insurance? For real. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. And there’s a reason. It’s bad for business.
FDR toyed with making universal healthcare part of social security but the AMA didn’t want doctor’s fees limited by the government (cost controls, in other words). FDR made the political decision not to risk losing on both social security AND universal healthcare. He put all the chips on social security alone. Then WWII happened — and history caused American healthcare to zig when maybe we should have zagged.
Because all available money needed to go to the war, employers were not allowed to give good employees raises. Those same frozen wages made it hard to lure new talent (who could go elsewhere to an employer whose wages were frozen at a higher level). Thinking outside the box — what other benefits could be offered that would feel like salary? — produced the first direct employee sponsored healthcare.
The idea spread. People liked the benefit. In their minds, it was saving them money and providing them comfort. What’s not to love? Then the war ended.
With the war over, companies were free again to offer whatever salaries or bonuses or raises they wanted. They also were free to end the war-time benefit (replacing it with salary). They didn’t. Hell, instead of ending these programs, the big companies held onto it. This was back at a time when your average middle class American (remember them?) entered the work force at 18 or 22 (if they went to college) and whatever employer they started with? That was likely to be the employer who’d be handing them a gold watch upon their retirement 40 years hence. Your employment relationship was supposed to be as durable as your marriage.
While the big companies (who’d done a shitload of the hiring during the war) held onto providing healthcare to their employees, they farmed out the work of administering this employee benefit — and the healthcare insurance industry was born. Didn’t take long before the baby took over the nursery. Then the whole house.
Ask a company like Boeing what having to provide healthcare insurance to its tens of thousands of employees does to its bottom line and its competitiveness. The cost of that healthcare is massive and it gets reflected in the cost of each airplane.
Airbus, by contrast, doesn’t have to pay for its employees’ healthcare. In Europe, the government takes care of it, paying for it with tax dollars. That gives Airbus an advantage because they don’t have to build that cost into what they charge for an airplane. See? Employer-based healthcare is bad for American business because it makes them less competitive.
As for the healthcare itself — all the employer is providing is the insurance coverage. What that coverage is? That’s up to the insurance company.
The insurance companies can make up any rules they want. And they do. The most important rules of all — to them — is who they contract with and therefore who their customers will be allowed (by their made up rules) to see. Every last bit of this, remember, is made up. By a company put there to administer this thing.
Insurance companies are gatekeepers. Border guards that — so long as we pay our premiums and stay employed by the same bosses — will smile at us benignly each time we pass by. But we fear them. We dread them. What if they don’t smile next time?
What if, next time — when we’re really sick — they turn us away? What if they point to language in their dense boiler plate (something on page 58) that says our particular situation (as they’re interpreting it) means they don’t have to cover the procedure we need. We’re free however to pay for it retail-retail out of pocket.
Hey — we charge hundreds of dollars for insulin that costs relative pennies in Canada. Every last penny of that difference is profit. Let me repeat: PROFIT. People are dying cos they can’t afford their insulin. Retail-retail in American healthcare means the cost of a procedure and the procedure’s actual cost have nothing to do with each other. It’s like being charged a million bucks to go three blocks in a taxi.
What’s wrong with America’s healthcare system isn’t that the inmates are running the asylum. It’s that insurance companies are. And they couldn’t give a rat’s ass what happens to any of us.