Monday, March 15, 2010

Healthcare Myths

      According to recent polls, Joe Sixpack and his friends are overwhelmingly against President Obama’s healthcare plan. I must say I can hardly blame them; the pharmaceutical industry has made a $12 million dollar investment in negative advertising in order to defeat it. Joe and his buddies should consider this: At today’s price of medicines, can what is good for the drug companies also be good for Joe and his friends?
      In addition, a group of businesses led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $11 million in this month alone, trying to influence 40 Democratic lawmakers to vote against the bill. Follow the money, Joe.
      The advertisers have been trying to sell three myths about the plan:

1.) The President is proposing to take over one-sixth of the U.S. economy; the portion of the GDP which is currently being spent on healthcare. Actually, the government already controls half of that amount through Medicare and Medicaid. Of the remainder, one-third is paid by employer plans, which the government controls through tax exemptions and other regulations. The rest, the part the government does not already control, is the part spent by people who buy private insurance because they can’t get employer plans. In addition, those who have no insurance at all would be covered.

Let me tell you about private plans. When Barbara retired, she lost the health insurance that came with her job. When she applied for private coverage, it was denied because she was taking two blood pressure medicines; if she had been taking only one, she could have got it. So she opted for the high-risk coverage offered by the state of California, at a cost of almost $900 per month; upon moving to Pennsylvania, the same coverage was $240 per month. Interestingly, the price of the medicines in Pennsylvania was slightly less than it was in California even though they were identical. Is control overdue? I’d say so.

2.) The proposed plan does nothing to control costs. It is true that the Medicare actuary predicts that healthcare spending would be slightly higher in 2019 under the reform plan than without it. (The difference is less than 1%.) This is a half-truth. The other half is that because 34 million Americans will be covered who would not otherwise have insurance, this is a heck of a bargain. And to top it off, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that the plan will look even better cost-wise in the second decade of its existence.

3.) Health reform is fiscally irresponsible. Critics say that even if the actuary’s assessment is correct, when it comes to the tough Medicare control measures built into the plan, Congress will back away from them. This is not really an argument against the plan; it’s saying that there is no way to control Medicare costs. Congress has imposed Medicare limits in the past, and has never backed away from them when they began to hurt. And even if they do back away, that’s the fault of Congress – not the plan.
      So much for the myths. But Joe and his pals also claim that Obama is trying to ram his plan through Congress. Well, considering that healthcare has been coming up in Congress since at least the days of Ted Kennedy, I don’t think an all out push against the vested interests of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries is really “ramming,” at least in the same sense that the previous administration “rammed” through the necessity of an Iraqi war.
      But back then, trying to get the job done was called “leadership.” It still is.
      Ram away, prez.

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

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