Friday, March 5, 2010

A Comment On Health Care

Every Monday morning J H Kunstler publishes an essay in his blog called Clusterfuck Nation. I recommend it as, whether or not he hits the mark, his writing is always provocative and entertaining. This week he took on health care reform, surprisingly from a very anti-Republican angle. He isn't usually so decisive, even though one would never accuse Kunstler of being Pro-Democrat! Kunstler's world view could be summed up as expecting a decisive economic slide into poverty and limited technological resources for the US and anyone riding on the Empire's coattails. From this week's blog I read this rather cogent comment from someone called Jeff, who offered a personal insight into the US's health insurance mess that resonated with me. This is not a comment by the author of the blog (a link to that is at the end of the page):

I found the summit very useful, not just for exposing transparently obstructionist Republican tactics of the "let's just start over" (repeated ad nauseam) sort but also for laying out some honest-to-goodness policy differences. The mainstream media seemed to willfully ignore those, in favor flogging some personality driven sniping, of which there was actually comparatively little, the better to convey the meeting as some kind of demeaning, reality TV show.

Of the substantive differences, perhaps one of the most telling: Republicans object to the Obama plan in part on grounds of defending Medicare. When you hear a Republican defending Medicare, your bullshit antenna should go up, you should cover your nuts and grab your wallet (not necessarily in that order.) It became apparent that what they really meant is they want to protect Medicare C (aka "Medicare Advantage" plans.) I learned what these things are the hard way recently, by doing bureaucratic battle to get my geriatric father's Medicare advantage coverage accepted by a prominent national cancer center. In a nutshell, these things are private insurance market policies which "replace" the insured's Medicare, plus (in theory) provide a little additional coverage like preventative services, gym memberships, etc., of the sort which are extremely cheap and very infrequently used by senior citizens. For this, the private insurers can charge policy holders additional premium over and above what Medicare would charge, they also get paid an incentive from the government of about 15%, and are permitted to allow doctors and hospitals to whack insured's for an additional chunk of the total bill.

The kicker? Doctors and hospitals are free to accept or reject the coverage on a visit by visit basis. Meaning the policy holder cannot know in advance (as they can with other types of policies which have networks of hospitals and doctors)where they'll be eligible to be treated.

This is what Republicans mean by "market based solutions." The whole experiment has been an unmitigated disaster - - except for the agents and insurers who've reaped huge profits from a previously untapped market. And for Republicans who found a back door way to undercut Medicare, and provide themselves with another example of how "big government" programs don't work. Think Grover Norquist's wet dream of shrinking government down to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub.

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