Changing the American Health Care system

I responded to an email from moveon.org today, which wanted me to sign a petition to my Senators and Representative stating:

Full petition text:
“I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest.”

My convictions on this matter are different from moveon.org’s and from the position that Congressional Democrats like Baucus are putting forth, and so in the area for appending comments to be sent, I said:

Actually, this petition misrepresents my beliefs on this issue, based on 63 years of observation.

The single payer option is what we must adopt. A separate “public health insurance option “ will burden the taxpayer with the most expensive patients while the private plans take the profitable healthy younger patients. We have let this happen with FedEx and the Postal System, and private charter schools and public schools. The tax-supported option ends up with the mandate of accepting the part of the market that is least profitable.

We all know that the health care mega-corporations and industry groups will promise *anything* now, like a person being waterboarded. Five years from now will they be so devoted to the health of every American? No chance. And once this process is over, we are stuck with it—there will not be the political will to make substantial changes for another generation or more.

Mind you, I don’t think there’s much chance of a single-payer option coming to pass. American politics runs on money, and who’s got more of it than the “medical-industrial complex”? Americans have more passion and energy to invest in American Idol than in their own health and survival.

What the US now spends on health care

Here are some interesting figures, from the National Coalition on Health Care, a non-profit coalition bringing together “large and small businesses, the nation’s largest labor, consumer, religious and primary care provider groups, and the largest health and pension funds”, with 2 former presidents as Honorary Co-Chairs, Bush the first and Jimmy Carter. So their figures are likely to be well-researched and certainly not wildly radical.

National Health Care Spending

In 2008, health care spending in the United States reached $2.4 trillion, and was projected to reach $3.1 trillion in 2012.1 Health care spending is projected to reach $4.3 trillion by 2016.1
Health care spending is 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense.3

In 2008, the United States will spend 17 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. It is projected that the percentage will reach 20 percent by 2017.1

Although nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured, the United States spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens.3

Health care spending accounted for 10.9 percent of the GDP in Switzerland, 10.7 percent in Germany, 9.7 percent in Canada and 9.5 percent in France, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.4

footnotes refer to these sources:

1 – Keehan, S. et al. “Health Spending Projections Through 2017, Health Affairs Web Exclusive W146: 21 February 2008.

2 – The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Employee Health Benefits: 2008 Annual Survey. September 2008.

3 – California Health Care Foundation. Health Care Costs 101 — 2005. 02 March 2005.

4 – Pear, R., “U.S. Health Care Spending Reaches All-Time High: 15% of GDP.” The New York Times, 9 January 2004, 3.

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