The Health Care Debate is Making Me Sick

This is no surprise but when Barack Obama was elected President I was one of the people who was heartened. I believed (and still believe) that our country can once again be one that cares about all of its people, not just the ones with oil wells. His decision to tackle health care makes me feel that this may be the time we have real reform.

It’s cliché but true to say that our current health care system is broken. Most of us have health insurance and if we’re under 65 years old we get it from our employer (or the employer of the head of our household). Employer provided health insurance started as just another perk to attract good employees, but it’s become a huge problem. It’s a problem for a couple of reasons:

  • This is the easiest problem to understand, but if you lose your job, you lose your health insurance. At the time when you’re awash in worries about how to pay your bills, you now have to worry about getting sick or injured. It’s true that many people can take advantage of COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) but that means you need to pay the entire cost of the policy (where before your employer paid most of it) and it expires 1 1/2 years (18 months) after it starts.
  • If you work for someone who doesn’t offer health insurance, it can be difficult to get it. Your employer is not required to offer it, though most large employers do for full time employees. But if you’re part time, if you work for a small company, or if your boss is a cheap bastard, you’re out of luck. You need to find insurance on your own.

I’ll admit to this, but I don’t have much sympathy for the insurance companies. They have to negotiate with large companies for big volume, but if you’re looking for individual coverage you have no way to negotiate. Not only do you pay big bucks for limited coverage, they can drop you for just about anything. And they can do it retroactively (this is called “recision”). Don’t believe me? Ask Robin Beaton. She is a retired nurse who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2008 and needed a double mastectomy. Her insurer, Blue Cross approved the surgery, but days before the surgery they informed her that they weren’t going to pay for the surgery because she had a preexisting condition that she hadn’t disclosed. Turns out she had seen a dermatologist for acne and Blue Cross interpreted this as precancerous (teens all over the world may panic now). Since she “already had cancer” they weren’t going to pay for the mastectomy. Through the intervention of her congressman she was able to have the surgery 4 months later when the size of the tumor increased 2 to 3 centimeters. You can read more about this at and CNN.

I knew when President Obama started talking about health care there would be some pushback from the Republicans but I can’t believe what I’m hearing. To quote Lily Tomlin, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.” Here are some highlights:

  • Sarah Palin: Seniors and the disabled “will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.”
  • The Club for Growth: The health care reform plan would set limits similar to the “socialized” system in Britain, where people are allowed to die if their treatment would cost more than $22,000.
  • Rush Limbaugh (7 August 2009): It’s right out of Adolph Hitler’s playbook.

There’s more but this gives you a flavor. The reality is that President Obama, and many of us, simply wish to provide adequate health care to all Americans. We don’t wish to devalue or decrease the health care of people who already benefit, but expand it to those who don’t. In the 1960s these same forces opposed Medicare calling it “socialized medicine,” but today it would be hard to find someone on Medicare who thinks he’d be better off without it.

Stop believing the lies of those who want to nothing else but to scare you.