Friday, February 29, 2008

Clinton and Obama on Health Care

Listening to the debate of February 27, 2008, between Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I was pleased that they both paid much attention to the issue of health care. Up to this point, the Republican candidates have not said much about the health care issue, obviously wishing to ignore it. The Democrats, on the other hand, have made it clear that they want to push forward toward changing our dysfunctional health care system into something more sensible.

However, it was distressing to see both Clinton and Obama start by saying how important it was for everyone to have affordable health care and then switch the discussion over to health insurance. Perhaps intentionally, they were both failing to distinguish the difference between health care and health insurance. They each seemed to be trying to claim that having affordable health insurance was equivalent to having affordable health care.

If all health insurance was like Medicaid insurance—which pays the full costs of health care for its beneficiaries—then affordable health insurance would be equivalent to affordable health care. But we all know that most insurance policies pay only a portion of health care costs, and in extreme cases, not even a major part. It is getting worse by the day, too. Private insurers and the employers that buy insurance from them are increasingly trying to dump more of the cost of paying for health care off onto individuals. Furthermore, the insurance companies are doing their best to refuse insurance coverage to those persons needing the most health care. These are the persons who are getting hit the hardest by our current system.

It would be nice if our presidential candidates felt they could be forthright in admitting that the only way to bring affordable health care to all Americans is to establish a government-operated program of universal health care and to get the private insurance industry out of the picture altogether.

So we can only hope that once he or she gets elected, the winner of the presidential race will get down to business and push for real progress by establishing a universal health care program rather than continuing to promote a program of universal health insurance in which the insurance industry plays the major role. This industry’s high administrative costs and shareholder profits absorb a substantial share of the health care dollar. This is money that should be going to pay for health care directly, and if that money did go there, the overall cost of health care would go down.

It won’t be easy of course, because even if Clinton and Obama do, a large segment of the American public does not recognize the difference between health insurance and health care, and many are leery of increasing the government’s role in health care or any other arena. Many Americans have a hard time realizing that the best tool we have available for fixing the health care system is our federal government.

1 comment:

Neil Davis said...

Reinforcing the ideas expressed here is a comment atributed to Dr. James Kimmey, President and CEO of the Missouri Foundation of Health. Speaking of the presidential candidates he said, "I am dissapointed with the narrowness of the concepts the candidates have put before us. Th Hippocratic Oath says first do no harm, and if I was being critical, I would say the candidates say first do no harm to the insurance industry, big Pharma, the hospital industry, and all other organizations that represent the special interest and status quo in health care."