Sunday, July 19, 2009

healthcare reform

There has been an enormous amount of media coverage of the Democrats' attempts at healthcare reform. Big Health is currently spending over $1,500,000 a day to try to defeat every single proposal being made by the Democrats.

So in the interest of fairness I think we should examine the Republicans' healthcare reform plan, as evinced by GOP legislation during 2000-2006, when they controlled all three branches of government, and by the proposals they're making now.

Based on all that, here's what the GOP proposes:

1. Eliminate punitive damages in malpractice suits, so when the doc saws off your leg instead of removing your appendix, your lawsuit won't cripple him.

2. Otherwide, the current healthcare system in its entirely.

This is reinforced by right wing pundits, talk show hosts and congressmen declaring many times daily that we enjoy "the finest medical care system in the world."

And so we do--if you're a congressman or a multimillionaire or a public sector employee.

If you're employed by a company with full healthcare benefits, you may feel the same way--as long as you haven't needed those benefits in a big way. Otherwise you'll get to find out how our system rations healthcare--while carefully avoiding calling it that.

But even if you love your current healthcare provision, the fact is that healthcare costs are rising so rapidly that a major chunk of our gross national product is being diverted into healthcare industry profits, and the diversion is increasing steadily (hence the $1,500,000 a day being spent by the profiteers to preserve the status quo).

The Republicans talk about the Social Security and Medicare funding heading over the cliff. Well, that's nothing compared to what's going on in healthcare overall. It is unsustainable, and it's a major contribution to making our country's products uncompetitive in the world market.

The Democratic proposals thus far are very expensive, because they don't address a simple fact: our healthcare system runs with around a 30% overhead, while other nations--such as France--run with a 3% overhead. The difference is a mix of runaway profits for self-appointed middlemen, high medical professional salaries, administrative inefficiency, and a vast bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to deny medical benefit claims wherever possible, by hook or by crook, with a concomitant vast bureacracy required by healthcare providers to try to get claims approved.

If the Democrats adopt a single payer system we'd be able to provide proper healthcare for everyone with less rationing than now takes place--but it would displace a huge number of people, from minions to Masters of the Universe--now staffing this unnecessary bureacracy.

Other countries have made such a changeover successfully. We probably can't reduce costs unless we follow suit. The half-measures proposed so far don't tackle the inherent problem of trying to apply for-profit principles to healthcare--namely that healthcare customers comprise a captive market; they aren't really free to shop for healthcare when they need it, unlike, say, choosing to buy a house or a new car or a TV. This hidden truth invariably drives prices up in a for-profit marketplace.

So the Democrats propose measures that fall short of a solution, while the Republicans propose--nothing.

Ain't democracy grand? My fear is that vast wealth and skillful, relentless propaganda may be sufficient to get people to vote against their self interest. This is exactly what happened when Hillary Clinton crafted a healthcare system back in the 1990's. And it's close to happening again.

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