Fox: Current health-care system predicated on myth

Friday, July 24, 2009

One of my favorite toys these days is Facebook. I've used it to reconnect with friends from high school and other people I haven't seen in a decade.

But the other day, it helped my crystalize my thoughts on health-care reform.

I was debating the topic online with someone I've actually never met before. It was a very cordial, fun and competitive discussion, and it was very telling when he wrote back "I am not in favor of any system that removes competition."

As the debate over President Obama's health-care reform plan heats up, the idea of competition is where it breaks down. As it relates to our current health-insurance system, the idea of competition is a complete myth. Ironically, Obama's "socialist" plan of a public option is the only one where there is true choice.

Think about it: when you go to work for an employer, your choice for insurance really isn't a choice. You either take the plan offered (if it's offered at all) or you seek out another insurance company at a much higher cost. Or you go on the DGS (Don't Get Sick) plan.

And that really isn't a choice, is it?

It's not like competition for cable or cell-phone service, where I can search for the best deal on text messaging, or see if someone out there offers the SpongeBob Squarepants Channel or ESPN8 in high-def and surround sound.

It's not like going to a bunch of different grocery stores, where I can run to Store A for the best produce, Store B for the choice meat and Store C for the video-store kiosk inside.

It's not even like car insurance, where if my company handles a claim poorly, I can switch with a 15-minute phone call.

No, our current health insurance system doesn't offer any of the benefits of competition. Premiums haven't gone down in this country; they've risen 120 percent over the last decade. The only competition seems to be which company can generate the most profit, and the most profit-generating thing those companies can do is to figure out how to deny a claim.

After all, their interest isn't necessarily in your health; it's in making sure you don't get sick enough to seek a treatment that will cost them money.

But the most basic answer is this: health care shouldn't be a competitive endeavor. Our health is too important, and our children's health is 1,000 times more important than our own.

Yeah, there's lots of money involved -- Obama's plan costs $1 trillion, about the same amount as we've spent in Iraq over the last eight years. But this country spends 4 1/2 times more on health care than it does on national defense, and six times more per capita than other countries. That's as much a product of the old business mantra that you've got to spend money to make money as it is anything else.

Right now, the profits go into the pockets of doctors, hospitals, medical associations, drug companies and insurance companies. Nobody else sees a dime. Meanwhile, plenty of Americans go bankrupt if their insurance company decides it doesn't want to play nice.

I honestly don't know if the European option is the way to go. It's a different system, one that relies on pharmacists and general practitioners as the main line of defense. There are fewer specialists, and elective surgeries can take a while. It would take a complete reorganization of the way we do things in this country. But at least nobody ever went bankrupt or was denied coverage.

And a public option would give us a choice -- something most of us don't really have.

Because make no mistake: good health care is a human right and a moral obligation.

So as Obama tries to convince conservative Democrats like Marshall County's representative, Bart Gordon, why this country needs to reorganize the way it cares for the nation's health, I hope we have a healthy debate in this country over what is truly best for its people.

If nothing else, maybe they should try Facebook.