Monday, January 15, 2007

Hey Dems, How About Fixing Healthcare?

I’m constantly amazed that healthcare is not a bigger issue in American politics. I simply can’t think of any area of American domestic policy that’s more screwed up. A personal experience illustrates this fact.

Last Fall my wife left her fulltime job to become a private contractor. Her new job has no benefits. I’m a freelance writer, so I have no benefits either. As such, we’ve been on COBRA and, to keep our old healthcare plan, we’ve been paying an amount that’s higher than any other monthly bill save our mortgage. Higher than our food costs. Higher than all our utilities combined. Higher than our two car payments combined.

And this is not a fancy plan. The deductible is high and, after that, the plan pays only 80% of in-network costs. We could get a cheaper plan but, as we have learned, only two insurance companies will insure for maternity in Texas. If you want to have a baby in Texas and have the costs covered, you have to pay a huge monthly premium.

I shouldn’t say “have the costs covered.” I should say, have a few costs covered. After the birth of my daughter, we owe various providers thousands of dollars. Those charges cover our 20%. But here’s the infuriating part: because of special contract agreements insurers have with the hospital plus the deductible costs we’ve paid, our insurance company will end up paying LESS than we will for the labor, delivery and post-natal care of my daughter.

Now, we’re going to be just fine. We’re financially secure. But it is a burden and one that’s requiring us to be pretty frugal for awhile. I can’t imagine how anyone in worse financial shape can afford health insurance if they don’t have a job with benefits.

I understand that it’s not cheap to provide health care. What I don’t understand is why politicians continue to offer band-aid solutions when something far more radical is needed. My personal experience is just one minor example of a healthcare system completely out-of-sync with modern American needs. Tens of thousands of other examples paint and even drearier picture.

Those who say there’s a free-market solution misunderstand that the entire system operates outside of anything resembling the free market. Thousands of regulations and rules are in effect from the municipal level all the way to the federal level. Furthermore, most healthcare is not a consumer good and cannot be expected to respond rationally to the usual free-market forces. There is no escaping that this is a problem for government policy to solve – as much as I wish it were otherwise, we cannot free ourselves from the web of market complexities and government regulations without resorting to serious governmental intervention.

If the Democratic Congress really wants to help the working and middle-class American, they’d focus on healthcare. Sure, a minimum wage hike is a nice bit of feel-good legislation but the real vice-clamp on Americans is not our wages. It’s our health costs.

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Anonymous Hamilton said...

Why does health insurance have to be such a different system than car insurance?

Everywhere I have lived, it is illegal to drive a car without insurance. Many factors (however unreasonable) go into determining how much I as an individual need to pay for what coverage.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a talking Gecko harassing you every day about saving money on health insurance? Maybe not, but still.

12:45 AM  

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