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Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I want a public option

Why do I want the option to purchase health insurance through a not-for-profit government program similar to Medicare?

Two reasons, one general and one specific.

1. Because I believe quality medical care is a human right.

2. Because private insurance failed me.

From 1997 to 2007, I was self-employed. I paid for health insurance out of pocket.

During this period, my monthly premiums increased 437 percent, from $69 per month to approximately $300 per month.

I have no chronic health problems other than seasonal allergies. I wear glasses and contact lenses. I’ve had three cavities, which doesn't matter because none of my plans included dental or eye care. I don’t have children.

To keep my premiums lower, I kept switching to higher deductible plans, and regularly narrowing my physician options by going from PPO to HMO.

A 437 percent price increase — while the quality of my coverage was dropping.

I had three insurers during that 10-year period. I moved around trying to find the best price.

I stopped jumping around, though, after an insurer I was attempting to jump to turned me down because of a preexisting condition.

What was my condition?

A stomach ache.

I had painful stomach aches for a couple weeks — in 1999 I think it was. I’m fine now. It turned out to be nothing more than stress-induced heartburn. It was corrected by exercising to relieve stress, getting a relaxing hobby (photography), and eating bland foods for several days.

But I didn’t know that at first.

So I went to my primary care physician, who gave me an abdominal X-ray.

Alas, my preexisting condition — a stomach ache I made the mistake of telling a doctor about.

Since 2007, I’ve been insured through an employer’s group plan. I’m lucky. For the rest of my life, I’ll probably be able to get on a group plan because my wife and I are more employable than average.

But I can no longer afford to purchase private insurance on my own.

There is a fundamental problem with private, for-profit health insurance. It’s a problem that cannot be corrected.

Private insurers lose money every time they help their customers. Hence the avoidance of the guy with the stomach ache.

If a car hits me today, United Healthcare (my current insurer) has a sudden, urgent financial incentive to drop me. My medical needs are their financial liabilities.

This is not true of doctors, nurses, technicians, drug companies, and hospitals.

They typically make money by helping you. And they deserve it.

There are huge inefficiencies in their systems, but generally the more and better work they do, the more money they make. Generally.

Some people like to bash pharmaceutical firms for their excesses. That’s understandable.

Drugs keep people alive, though.

Making a fat profit for keeping people alive and/or well is capitalism I can believe in with few reservations.

But that’s not how private insurers operate.

Every dollar they spend on helping sick people is an expense.

I don’t want to pay money to a company that views my life as liability.

I want a public option.

Critics of a public health plan open to all Americans say they don’t want government bureaucrats deciding which treatments and drugs are covered.

I’m totally fine with government bureaucrats making those decisions.

Why?

Because at the moment, for-profit insurance company bureaucrats are the people making those same decisions.

People who lose money when they care for me are the ones deciding what care I get.

The primary duty of insurance company bureaucrats is to protect the fiscal health of their employer.

Again. My health is their liability.

Given a choice between faceless bureaucrats, I’m choosing the ones who are sworn to work for the public good, not the ones with an eye on Wall Street quarterly reports.

I want a public option. I believe it will be more affordable, humane and dignified than the current U.S. system.

And more effective.

People in advanced countries with universal healthcare live longer.

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