Take Two #37: Caught in the Health Insurance Web
By Kyra-lin Hom
I started this column expecting to comment on the Supreme Court's recent okaying of Obamacare. However, once I'd begun putting fingers to keys, I realized there was a problem with my plan: I don't actually understand it. Well okay, I understand that by calling this uninsured person's fee a “tax” and not a “penalty” it's somehow no longer violating our constitutional rights. And I get that the idea of cheap healthcare for everyone is obviously well intended. All the little bits and pieces that make up this health insurance thing sit just fine with me. It's the big picture that just fundamentally boggles my mind.
To me health insurance is just that, 'insurance.' It's this handy-dandy capitalist idea that if I pay someone a little bit of money on a regular basis, they promise to take care of me when the brown stuff hits the proverbial fan. If I never get sick, oh well. It was my choice. My money gets to act as counterbalance to the guy on life support who has his hundred dollar pills air-lifted in and hand-fed to him by chanting monks. If I do, say, get hit by a car and suddenly need $50,000 in surgery then I invested well. Get enough people on the insurance bandwagon and the insurance companies are nearly guaranteed to profit. Everyone follows their own choices. Everyone goes home happy. Seems simple enough.
Yet people have consistently wanted more and more things to be covered under their health insurance umbrellas – only the things they predict they will need of course (which seems to negate the whole just-in-case point of 'insurance'). Essentially people want to pick and choose their own coverage, requiring insurance companies to create increasingly tailored plans, which then sends prices skyrocketing into unregulatable territories. And things get complicated – not to mention expensive.
Insurance companies are charging higher premiums with higher deductibles to cover the increasing number of medical treatments demanded and support the larger volume of people now needed to regulate all of these specific plans and their respective loopholes. Plus we mustn't forget that element of greed involved in any capitalistic venture. Please explain to me the difference between a regular insurance policy with a $6,000 yearly deductible and 'catastrophic coverage.' Oh right, the former is more expensive. What? Like I said, things get complicated.
We then also have the government swooping in with Medicare and Medicaid. Everyone cheers. Yet people again start wanting more things covered and more tailored plans. Come on people, that's like expecting a public high school to have as many flatscreen TV's as a private one. Not going to happen. But like the good pandering politicians they are, Washington DC tries to give the voters what they want. How do politicians do that? They raise taxes and pay the medical professionals less.
In response most medical professionals – especially those part of large organizations - compensate by seeing more patients, having less time for each one, and charging more for time and amenities. Not to mention doctors also have to pay for their side of the insurance spectrum, namely malpractice insurance, and then cover their legal hides by ordering an overkill series of tests so that patients can't turn around and sue them for negligence. This all compounds to inflate medical costs across the board thus raising premiums and further screwing over the people without insurance.
Health insurance is a fabulous loop of everyone wanting to get more for less and forgetting what the whole system is supposed to do in the first place: insure people against financially catastrophic medical emergencies. Not hold people's hands when they've stubbed their toes. According to the World Health Organization, the US spends more on healthcare per person annually than any other country in the world and yet we rank 37th in actual healthcare quality (see possible causes above). We've become so used to the idea of health insurance paying for everything that we equate what the insurance companies will cover with what is medically necessary. Think about yourself. Which would you throw the larger fit over: having to pay $100 out of pocket for a car tune up or a doctor's appointment?
I like Obama. I think his intentions are good and that there are a lot of great clauses to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare). But I also think that the government's essential partnering with the health insurance companies is only further entangling us all in a system spiraling into its own regulations. Obama has the right idea. He's just building upon a broken system.