Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lobbyist Distorts Health Care Reform

Dan Schwartzer has a column up today at WisOpinion that outlines what he views to be two opposing ideas for health care reform: "government intervention" and "a private market solution."

Schwartzer is a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of Health Underwriters (WAHU), which is described in the column's byline as "an association of professionals who work directly with consumers in the financing of their health care." This is a fancy way of saying WAHU is special interest group made up of agents who sell private health insurance.

So it's really no surprise that Schwartzer champions health care reform that maintains the current structure of multiple privatized insurance companies over a consolidated payer system.

I'm not going to fault him for doing his job, but how he goes about doing it is concerning.

To make his point, Schwarter vacillates between framing insurance companies as blameless entities caught in the middle of increased demand & greedy providers and spinning tales about how government-based solutions to the health care crisis will inevitably lead to government-run health care.

The idea that insurance companies don't contribute at all to the cost of health care in the US is ludicrous. Administrative costs -- which amount to 1/3 of the total cost for health care in the US -- go almost entirely to feed the myriad of private insurance companies competing in the US system.

A simplified consolidated payer system would streamline care to the point that these costs could easily be cut in half, which is the case for single-payer countries that still manage to afford universal care for their citizens.

Plus, consolidating payers would greatly increase the negotiating power of the payers in the system. The success of consolidating and centralizing payers was proven right here in Wisconsin when the state health insurance plan was revamped a few years ago.

By moving under a single payer for prescription drugs, the state of Wisconsin has been able to save "tens of millions of dollars" in just two years, according the administrator of the plan. Wisconsin is now serving as a model for other states who want to do the same.

The charge about government-run health care is as old as it is weak. The government is not interested in controlling people's health care -- what government needs to do is step in to simplify the process and ensure that all citizens have access to affordable and quality care. This is simply not happening in the privatized system in the US today.

Schwarter makes the charge the if the government intervenes in the health care crisis, it will surely lead to rationing as a means for cutting costs. This is ridiculous charge on its head considering that with over 40 million uninsured and countless more underinsured in the US today, the privatized American health care market already rations more than any other system in the industrialized world -- and our costs still are by far the highest!

As health policy expert Michael Holt explains: "So yup [rationing] happens here too, and instead of doing it by some defensible way — like looking at the cost-benefit analysis for a population — that an economist ought to commend, we do it on the basis of whether or not you can afford it."

But even beyond that, there's no evidence that a consolidated payer system in the US (or in Wisconsin, for that matter) would even need to resort to rationing. The claim is nothing more than a scare tactic used to drum up opposition to fundamentally rebuilding our health care system.

Critics like to point to rationing in countries like the UK and Canada, but they ignore that there's no evidence of significant rationing in consolidated payer countries like France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Holland.

Again, I don't blame Schwartzer for his column. He's just doing his job.

And I don't expect this to be the last we see of him and other emissaries from the health insurance sector. The time is ripe for comprehensive health care reform in Wisconsin and the US as a whole -- the recent Commonwealth Fund survey showing that 75 percent of Americans think the health care system needs to be fundamentally rebuilt shows at least that much.

That means the time is now for those who benefit from maintaining the structure of the traditional system for health care in the US.

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