My turn: Health care: Who's afraid of the big bad government?

Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The health care reform debate has been a fascinating one. The vast majority of U.S. citizens know first-hand that the corporate system isn't working and want change, while a steady drumbeat of politicians, "think" tanks and lobbyists continue to insist that somehow the free market will suddenly reverse course and solve the problem of skyrocketing costs.

They ridicule the high quality and low price of government health systems of Europe and Canada. They propagate the myth that insurance corporations are more efficient than the government and tell us to be afraid of whatever the government might do. Personally, after years of buying expensive insurance that nickel-and-dimes me every step of the way, I just don't see what I have to fear from a government plan.

As a 50-year-old business owner with a wife and two children, I am currently paying more than $13,000 each year for our family's health insurance. It has increased about $3,000 since I signed up two years ago. Since there is a $1,000 deductible per person and co-payments, we easily pay another $1,000 to 2,000 per year in routine medical and pharmacy bills, as well as $2,000 to 3,000 per year in dental. We won't even talk about optical and orthodontics, which are not covered at all. So, in a year when we are all healthy, I pay about $17,000 in medical and dental expenses. Most of this goes into the pocket of the health insurance corporation.

Those who abhor wasteful bureaucracy should know that 31 percent of current U.S. medical dollars are spent on administration, not medical care. Contrary to the lies being spread by corporate allies, government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare have far lower overhead than insurance companies, since they have no fat executive salaries or shareholder dividends to pay, nor a huge bureaucracy dedicated to assessing and denying patients' claims.

Furthermore, President Obama's "public option" plan doesn't force anyone to enroll, but instead offers a government insurance plan that people can subscribe to if they choose. If the government is really as incompetent as insurance companies and their political tools make it out to be,

Americans will quickly realize that and stick with their corporate plans. If not, and the insurance corporations suddenly find themselves unable to compete with a cheaper government plan, so be it. The insurance executives claim it's unfair because the government plans would be "subsidized." Sorry, guys; I've been subsidizing you for a long time, and all I get is escalating costs and minimal benefits. I'll bet the government can give me the same coverage, or better, for a lot less than $17,000 a year.

Insurance, pharmaceutical and all the other corporations that profit off our health care are currently spending more than one million dollars a day to convince Americans that they are our best option.

They propose ineffective "sound-alike" plans such as regional health care exchanges, or promise to do better from now on so as to kick real change years down the road, when they hope to defeat it again. If you want change, call Lisa Murkowski (an insurance company ally) and Mark Begich and tell them you want the public option included in health care reform. This chance won't come along again soon.

• Stuart Cohen has been a local business owner since 1984.

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