In the Matter of Health Care Versus Baloney

Today we talk about Andorra. We also talk about arrogance and ignorance. We talk about presumption and prevarication. We talk about protecting the privileged and plundering the poor. We even talk about blowhards and baloney.

In other words, we talk about health care in Colorado and, to a greater extent, the entire United States.

You will hear a great deal about this subject in the coming months as a blue ribbon commission prepares to recommend statewide health care reform to the General Assembly. The legislature is supposed to approve a program in its 2008 session that will lead to near universal health coverage of Coloradans by 2010.

That brings us to Andorra. This tiny country tucked in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain boasts the longest life expectancy in the world – 83.5 years. It has an infant mortality rate of 6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

If you live in Colorado, you’re probably wondering what that has to do with you. At the moment, not much. By Andorran standards, health care in Colorado sucks.

 

The state’s life expectancy is 78.9 years. Its infant mortality rate is 6.4 deaths per thousand live births.

 

This is the ugly little secret that the opponents of single payer health care want to keep from you. They want you to believe that America has the best health care in the world. They want you to believe that if you substituted payroll deductions for health insurance premiums and deductibles that you’d be living in Beijing instead of Bailey. They don't want you to consider that you'd save money on your overall health expenditures. Instead, they want you to think you’ll be waiting longer than you do now to get doctor’s appointments and procedures.

 

The perniciousness of these lies can hardly be overstated.

 

Here, according to World Health Organization databases, are a few countries with greater life expectancies and lower infant mortality than fitness-crazed Colorado: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, San  Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.

 

Most of these countries have some variant of a single payer health care system similar to one that Colorado now considers.

 

“We do have a good health care system for those who can afford it,” said Rocky White, the Alamosa physician who authored the single payer plan that is one of four reform models being considered by the Colorado health care commission. “We have great infrastructure, great hospitals, the best-trained doctors in the world. But the have-nots are outpacing the haves now.”

 

 The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has determined that more than 10 percent of the state’s children have no health insurance coverage. An estimated 770,000 Colorado children and adults lack coverage. That doesn’t count the under-insured whose high deductibles and premium payments put them at risk of losing coverage.

 

The United States has slipped to 42nd in the world in life expectancy, the World Health Organization and U.S. Census Bureau recently reported. The U.S. has the second worst infant mortality rate among developed nations, according to the child advocacy group Save the Children. We’re going backward, not forward. And for these pathetic results, we are spending much more money on health care than any other country in the world.

 

With an estimated 47 million uninsured Americans, we create a burden on everyone. Emergency rooms must treat those uninsured people, when they get sick, regardless of their ability to pay. ER care is among the least cost-effective kinds of treatment. So the excess costs get passed on to those who have health insurance in the form of increased premiums. The increased premiums then make health insurance unaffordable for more employers and employees.

 

It’s a cycle of self-destruction based on the flawed premise that health care is a business not a healing art.

 

But on the business side, the U.S. system “doesn’t even make economic sense,” said Donna Smith of Aurora, whose family health problems forced her and her husband to declare bankruptcy. “Single payer would lower the burden on American businesses.”

 

Smith and her husband, Larry, appear in Michael Moore’s documentary “SICKO,” which lambastes the U.S. health care model. Smith testified before Congress in July about the inability of many Americans to afford health care. She just started a group called American Patients for Universal Health Care.

 

“Our first big event is Sept. 28 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” Smith said. “We’ll be remembering Tracey Pierce, a 37-year-old who died from kidney cancer because the insurance company wouldn’t pay for the treatment he needed.”

 

If you’re worried that Smith isn’t objective because she has a dog in this fight, then check with Colorado’s own financial consultant on health care reform. The Lewin Group has issued a preliminary finding that cumulatively, a single payer health system will save Colorado money on health care.

 

And still the state has politicians running up the red flag of what they call “socialized medicine.”

 

White’s single-payer paradigm does not envision the government employing doctors. It uses a quasi-governmental agency to collect money to pay for health care through payroll deductions instead of insurance premiums. But the money goes the same place it always has – to private doctors and hospitals that patients choose.

 

Single payer health care is not about limiting choices. It’s about limiting overhead. Right now, private doctors must maintain administrative staffs to monitor literally dozens of different health insurance plans. That money goes to overhead, not healing.

 

Yet we find the editorial page of The Rocky Mountain News defending a costly, inefficient system under the dismissive headline “Single-Payer Baloney.”

 

There’s plenty of baloney in the editorial. But it has to do with the delusion that single payer is more expensive and less effective than what we have now or what 100 disconnected, profit-driven, private insurance plans could provide.

 

The numbers on life expectancy and infant mortality don’t lie. The liars are the apologists for a system which enriches insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and other vested interests far better than it treats patients.

 

As Rocky White likes to say:

 

“Three things drive public policy to fail – greed, fear and ignorance. Fear and ignorance can be addressed. Greed takes a big stick.”

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Jim Spencer

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