Sunday, September 12, 2004

Heal Thyself - Toss Out the GOP

Item: Chicago Tribune | HEALTH INSURANCE: Rapidly escalating cost squeezing out workers:

The cost of family health insurance is rapidly approaching the gross earnings of a full-time, minimum-wage worker,' said Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which gathered the data with the Health Research and Education Trust...
An acquaintance of mine is a server who works for a major restaurant chain. She puts in between 35 and 40 hours a week, serving sustenance to a largely hungry and ungrateful public. It's not a pleasant job, but then, all service sector jobs have a tendency to be rather crappy in nature.

My server friend carries the health insurance for her family. It's not great insurance, but it's certainly better than flying without the safety of a health coverage net, which is a social condition that affects nearly 45 million people in the U.S.

Did I mention my friend makes $2.31 per hour, because restaurants can skirt around minimum wage laws? When she receives her paycheck at the end of the week, it averages $0.00, because whatever paltry wage she's making goes right to deductions for family health insurance and LTD for her. So, basically, she's busting her ass at a crappy job for the luxury of making sure her family isn't bankrupted if someone gets sick, and for the $50 to $75 per day she brings home in tips.

There is an unprecedented healthcare crisis ongoing in this country, but for some reason, it's flying largely under the radar of other issues that confront us this election season. I've written here before that in my own personal circumstances, my real "take home" pay has decreased significantly in the last four years, most notably because of increases in health insurance premiums. For instance: this year I received a 3% raise (about average for most people). My contribution to health insurance premiums went up over $70 per month. So overall I've ended up, once again, with a net loss in my paycheck every two weeks.

Not only that, but my co-payments on both doctor visits and prescriptions have increased dramatically in the past few years. Where I was paying $5 for an office visit, I'm now paying $15. Where I was paying $5 or $10 for a prescription, I'm now paying $35. If someone in my family were to, heaven forbid, have to stay in a hospital, my deductible has gone from $250 to $1250. So I'm pay a lot more for substantially less coverage. And this is with one of the better health insurance plans.

The Chicago Tribune reports today that:
  • Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance zoomed ahead at an 11.2 percent rate this year, nearly five times the rate of inflation
  • It was the fourth consecutive year of double-digit increases
  • Premiums for family coverage are up 59 percent since 2001. During the same period, contributions employees made to pay for insurance went up 57 percent, while wages rose 12 percent
  • The percentage of firms with fewer than 200 employees that offered coverage decreased to 63 percent this year from 68 percent in 2001
  • In 2004, at least 5 million fewer jobs provided health insurance than in 2001
Listen, I know this isn't a sexy political topic, particularly for a Sunday morning. But it's real. There's an unprecedented "crisis" in American healthcare (I put crisis in quotations for a reason...bear with me).

We already know how the Bush administration is going address the topic - it's the trial lawyers, and outrageous lawsuit verdicts, yada yada yada. Oh, yes, it will be a campaign issue -- against trial lawyer (and Democratic veep candidate) John Edwards. In fact, the Bush campaign is getting ready to cut loose a series of ads aimed at Edwards and his ilk for contributing to the healthcare "crisis".

Reeling in trial lawyers and the phony Medicare prescription drug program are the Bush camp's only platform for healthcare reform. And isn't it interesting, then, that some of the largest contributors to the Bush campaign (and that of GOP house and senate leaders) are the health insurance industry and prescription drug manufacturers?

By contrast, John Kerry and John Edwards have a very realistic plan for driving down the cost of health insurance, ensuring that no child in America is without health care coverage, incentivizing the healthcare industry to modernize and cut costs, and curb the rising costs of malpractice insurance for doctors. BushCo will certainly spin the trial lawyer angle, but the Kerry / Edwards plan is so much more realistic, without jeopardizing the ability of a truly grievously injured patient to recover damages for gross medical misconduct. I encourage you to read the Kerry / Edwards plan on healthcare as a primer on how to actually fix the system.

Washington lobbying groups who have the GOP in their back pocket have largely manufactured the "crisis" in the American healthcare system. Don't you find it quite amazing that one of the primary architects of the Medicare prescription plan, which drains the national treasury of another $500-plus billion dollars, quit his job and went to work for a major pharmaceutical company right after the prescription plan was signed into law? That should tell you everything you need to know.

Health insurance industry profits are at an all time high. Prescription drug manufacturing industry profits are at an all time high. Top executive compensation in all sectors of the health care industry is at an all time high. Yep, everyone's making out but you, my waitress friend, and me.

So, the next time you dine out, eat healthy, remember my friend, and don't forget to tip the waitstaff generously.