Michael Moore's movie "Sicko" is now out on DVD, and our governor must have watched it. Anyone appreciating the genius of this documentary wouldn't want to tolerate another minute of our health care's status quo.
As we speak, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is launching an effort to move toward universal coverage, but he's not using the single-payer approach that all other industrialized countries have adopted.
The folks who stand to lose as victims of our current system are those who are between early retirement and the point at which they will qualify for Medicare. Talk about a donut hole. All of us are subject to the possibility of bad luck that could wipe out the financial stability we have worked a lifetime to enjoy. People in their 50s who find themselves in this situation, or who see this as a possibility, should watch "Sicko" to witness the full force of the financial nightmare that lurks in their future.
The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday cited the case of a young lawyer diagnosed with cancer who was refused treatment at the MD Anderson Center in Houston because Kaiser denied experimental treatment. On her own, she is trying to raise $250,000 for the cost of the treatment. Coincidentally, I know someone in Houston who made it through what amounts to our lottery system for superior health care. She receives treatment today at MD Anderson with what can only be described as spectacular success.
Then there are billing issues. A relative lost her Blue Cross coverage temporarily because the company failed to send a bill and the premium went unpaid for a short time. It was reinstated only after the threat of a lawsuit. Who needs this? It's a reflection of health insurance providers who are paying production bonuses to their employees -- employees who are rewarded for finding ways to deny coverage.
In the face of these sad situations, there are accounts of senior health insurance executives paid hundreds of millions per year. In one case, the amount was $1.5 billion. But justice is being served, as that amount involved now-contested backdated stock options. Beyond those insurance and drug executives at the feeding trough, "Sicko" artfully portrays the extent to which congressmen have received money.
The congressmen behind the drug bill --which makes price negotiation illegal -- are lined up on a stage at the signing, but the film superimposes cartoon balloons over their heads with campaign contribution dollar amounts that are typically in the $200,000 to $500,000 range.
The congressman sponsoring the bill promptly resigned after the signing to go to work as the head of the drug industry lobby at a salary of $2 million per year. Fourteen congressional staffers who worked on the bill left to work in the drug industry. Talk about something that's sick.
My reading of California's proposed plan is that it will cost me something as an additional employer tax, but hopefully save me something in health premiums.
Here's how that would look at my company of 25 people where my annual health insurance costs are about $50,000:
If I understand the bill correctly, I would pay 6.5 percent of annual payroll in additional taxes -- plus my existing premiums that are predicted to go down.
This tax would be about $65,000 per year on my million-dollar-plus payroll. This obviously won't save me anything.
I wouldn't mind paying the money, however, if I can be convinced that this represents a step toward a more humane system that works as well as those in the countries against which we have to compete. I would be furious if this extra cost just made it possible for insurance and drug company executives (and politicians) to make even more money.
If there's a constructive "takeaway" from the catastrophe depicted by "Sicko" it's the thought that it might be wise for all of us to go to someplace like http://www.medicalsavings.com and apply -- while we're still healthy -- for a high-deductible policy not connected with our jobs.
For this insurance, premiums are reasonable and we're protected against being eventually uninsurable and financially wiped out by an accident or illness. If nothing else, applying and being turned down for some benign, common problem will tell us what the industry thinks of us.
The next time we vote, we'll have a chance to say what we think of them.