In response to those who are badmouthing "Obamacare," it's important to keep in mind the standard of comparison. That was the increasingly dysfunctional "free-market," health-care system with monopolistic and price-fixing powers that was costing us twice what any other industrialized country was charging citizens for their health-care system.
With 35 percent of premiums being squandered on administration and marketing -- and hundreds of millions being paid to senior executives, (including $1.5 billion to one of them) -- it's hard to imagine that any alternative wouldn't be an improvement.
I was reminded of the bad old days this week when I read that Anthem Blue Cross was being sued by the Justice Department because they had contractually obligated hospitals to charge them less than they (the hospitals) would charge any other insurance carrier. I can understand why still-exorbitantly-paid Anthem Blue Cross executives might want to strong-arm hospitals into granting them "more favored nations" status, but how can it be a good thing for our society?
Other insurance carriers are forced to pay roughly 70 percent more for the same hospital service and pass it on in premiums for their non-Blue Cross customers. This condition explains why we've had anti-trust laws for 80 years. One wonders why they haven't been enforced until recently.
Hopefully, we're moving toward a system like the one in Switzerland where
everyone has to buy coverage -- coverage that is offered by the private sector, but the services and costs are heavily policed. My company just switched from Blue Cross to Aetna not that long ago, and when I look at the typical $12,000 annual cost for an employee and spouse, I'm reminded that one-third of that is for administration and another third is me paying for all those uninsured people who go to emergency rooms for free treatment.
As part of that "free treatment," I'm also paying the unpaid bills of the 50 percent of all personal bankruptcies that are the result of uninsured health-care expenses. Those are the unfortunate people that rack up huge bills with no hope of paying. Their lives are destroyed and the rest of us pick up what they were unable to pay in the form of higher premiums.
What's perverse about this situation is that nobody but us needs to care. The hospitals get what they need from the insurance industry, and the insurance industry passes the cost on to us. I don't have a problem with forcing everyone who's employed to pay something toward their health care.
Formerly uninsurable people with pre-existing conditions should be happy to get coverage, and I won't be paying as much as I was for their former "free" health care either. What's not to like about all this? Why aren't we comparing new health-care costs with the costs of the status quo? Someone looking for where they might find money to pay for their health insurance can start with the 92 gallons of soft drink consumed by the average American human being per year. Then we can ask why we give government subsidies to the sugar industry -- an industry that makes people sick.
For those sincerely concerned about the cost of health care, the place to start is with the prescription drug bill. The projected cost is greater than the cost of TARP, the stimulus bill and Obamacare combined. Why is it so expensive?
Because the drug industry spent more than $200 million on 463 lobbyists in 2004 to engineer the right to sell drugs for prices that could not be negotiated. It guarantees windfall profits for the industry. Bill Tauzin, the congressman who shepherded the bill through the process went on to take a job with the drug industry's trade association at a salary of $2 million per year. If angry Americans ever decide to aim their big guns at something that matters, they can count me in. Save me one of those T-shirts.