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Aug 14 2009

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Should health insurance reform go postal?

The recent media frenzy surrounding the health care reform town hall disruptions and the tired rhetoric criticizing all government programs as leading to fascism make me think about how the government does provide good service at low cost in many areas, such as the postal service. Yes, the USPS may actually be a government sanctioned for-profit corporate monopoly, but it is nonetheless a federal agency. Even as the USPS has raised rates to $0.44 a stamp, I am still amazed that for that amount of money I can send a birthday card, for example, hundreds of miles away to a relative who will receive it in just 2-3 days.  I don’t see this kind of deal from UPS or FedEx.

I would think it possible to expand and improve current systems like Medicare and agencies like the Veterans Health Administration to provide care for all people who can’t afford coverage or don’t have coverage through employment. Is not this possibility essentially Obama’s main point? In other words, we already provide massive amounts of “socialized” medicine and insurance and we should be willing and able to further develop the system to cover everyone.

However, the “postal” model, the so-called “public option,” is what scares the crap out of private, for-profit health insurance companies because they know they will not be able to compete with the federal government’s immense buying power. Instead of real, open, honest, and informative debate about different systems from other countries and what works here in the U.S. and what doesn’t work, the media is bombarding (excuse me, “reporting to”) us with vicious attacks and outright lies about health care reform leading to “death panels” and Nazi-style fascism. We all know Hitler gained absolute power by reforming health care in post-Weimar Germany! LOL!

Personally, I haven’t got a clue about the details is in the bills under current consideration because I don’t have the time or expertise to read hundreds of pages of legislation.  I am confident, however, that the naysayers are correct, that if there is some kind of public option made available to corporations and individuals–and it can reduce and control costs and premiums–then, yes, eventually such a plan will mushroom with participation and, hopefully (eh-hem), “take over” the health insurance industry.

Now let’s confuse ourselves with some facts from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Scrutinize pages 66-69 (aka 74-77 of the PDF).  You’ll notice something quite terribly “inefficient.”  I’ll use the 2007 numbers.  88% of people 55 to 64 had either private and/or government health insurance; 75% private and 20% government, thus implying 7% of this age group having both.  Now look at the “old” people, 65 and older.  98% coverage; 58% private (34% from employment) and 94% government.  Huh?  58+94=98?  Well, this implies that at least half of the old people have some form of private insurance, even though almost all of them are covered by government plans.

Now I wonder about two things.  First, a large percentage of old people (at least 26% according to USCB) deem it necessary to buy private coverage on their own.  Does not this imply that Medicare is inadequate?  Should not seniors be protesting to fix or otherwise expand Medicare since they all have it?  Instead the media is reporting the disruptions of town halls, many disrupted by seniors, as indications that seniors are against government-run health care because of death panels or whatever.  If I was a senior I’d be demanding a better government plan so I could get rid of my expensive private converage. Second, conversely, should not those of us who are younger protest Medicare covering 1/3 to 1/2 of seniors who have private insurance, especially the 1/3 that have insurance through continued employment?  Now I realize these are gross numbers and do not reveal any details about the type and depth of coverage, but isn’t that what reform should be about?  Figuring out how to create a system that eliminates gross inefficiencies like duplicate coverage?  I think this is precisely what Obama keeps pounding the table about, that 2/3 of the cost of reform can be covered by eliminating subsidies and through accounting changes, etc.

Of course I believe the real debate should have as its primary concern how we can cover everyone. 15% of 300 million people uninsured is a great evil in the world’s richest nation. 45 million uninsured is a grave irresponsibility on the part of all of us, not to mention the millions more that are under-insured.

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