Health Care Reform Or Not

Health policy in the U.S. heavily relies on the strategy of denial. Health care costs eat up over 16% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The typical American works two months out of every year just to cover medical treatment! Or, to put it another way, in 2007 the U.S. spent an average $7,421 per resident for health care. That same year, total medical costs were rising at 6.1% annually – far higher than the rate of GDP growth. What could you do with an extra $7,421 each year for every member of your family?

If you are healthy, you may think this cost does not apply to you. While the cost is an average, think about all the places that health care costs are hiding.

Federal income taxes – to pay for Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs

State taxes – to pay for the state’s share of Medicaid and other programs

Your health premiums – the amount you pay each month to your employer or an insurance company to cover just being insured (if you have insurance)

Your out-of-pocket costs – your part of the bill when you go to the doctor or emergency room, are admitted to the hospital, buy a prescription, or use any other health care service. If you have insurance, notice that every year you likely pay more to get less in coverage.

Part of every purchase – no matter what you buy, from an electronic gadget to clothes, school supplies, a car or bike, or food, health care costs are hidden in the purchase price. Why? For one thing, the seller has to pay taxes too, and part of its taxes goes for health care programs. Second, the seller is likely providing health care insurance to its employees, with a hefty tab skyrocketing year after year. The seller needs to cover those costs somehow, and you’ve been nominated.

Seventy five percent of the costs ($5,566 for you and each family member) go to treat people with chronic illness. In other words, those suffering from high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, cancer, autoimmune disease, skin and eye diseases, sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and more. The painful list goes on and on. Money is only a minor part of the human cost.

Whether or not there is health care reform will make only a tiny difference in the long run. The soaring costs are not sustainable because other parts of the economy simply can’t keep up. If costs keep mounting as they are, engulfing a bigger part of our national resources each year, it won’t matter who pays or how. Because no one will have that much money and the system will slide downhill.

The only way to permanently construct a sane health care plan is to have people make meaningful changes in their lifestyle. This means reducing the risk of getting a chronic illness.

Eating a plant-based diet of whole foods is the single most critical action you can take to lower costs and stay well enough to survive the imploding system. This choice is for you to make, not Congress. Breathe easy that you can stay largely outside the polarizing health care debate and hospitals both if you make the best lifestyle choices. And that is not as hard as you might think.

If you are already ill and need treatment, this may be of little comfort. If we drastically reduced, as a nation, the total cost of health care through better diet and other great decisions (such as quitting smoking), there will be plenty to go around to take care of each and every sick person. We won’t need to skimp on anyone.

Don’t discount the healing power of a whole foods diet. You may feel a lot better even before we get to that long-awaited day when everyone gets the highest quality care.

Will the health care system be public, private, or a little bit of both once we get costs under control? We would have the luxury of debating options at that point because we could afford to! So let’s get out of denial and start building a healthier nation now. It starts with you.

Universal Health Care

Health Care: The History

Health care costs have skyrocketed over the last few decades. While there are numerous reasons for this, the bulk of these medical cost increases have come with advancements in medical practices and technology. Advanced procedures such as kidney dialysis, neurosurgery, MRIs, chemotherapy etc, cost money to provide. Rather than absorb these costs and go out of business, health care providers pass these costs onto insurance companies, who (also to avoid absorbing these costs and going out of business) then pass these costs off to their plan members through increased deductibles and premiums. An unfortunate consequence is this also means that those who need these treatments the most (often times the more elderly) become more expensive to cover. Health insurance companies adjust to this by either raising premiums or deductibles, or denying coverage altogether if the potential members appears to be too costly to cover. In fact, underwriting (researching potential members and deciding how much to charge in premiums and deductibles or whether or not to even cover them if it appears to be a loss) costs resources and money in itself, which again, is passed onto consumers through their deductibles and premiums. What this means is that providing health insurance only works as a viable business model if those who are in the greatest need it are denied their needed coverage (or charged premiums or deductibles they may not be able to afford). Insurance companies profit provide potential treatment to those who are likely to need it the least. Like any other business model, revenue must be maximized while costs are reduced.

Why Medicare Costs Have Increased

This increased cost in health care doesn’t stop with the private sector. Public health insurance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare are affected to an even greater extent. Whereas private health insurance companies adjust to rising costs by passing them onto consumers or denying them coverage altogether, these public programs don’t turn people away, or charge them higher premiums for preconditions. Add to this the fact that Medicare insures senior citizens; the most costly to demographic to insure (imagine private health insurance premiums for a 68 year old who is far more likely to need a kidney dialysis or cancer treatments than someone far younger). It’s the same increased health care costs that are driving up private health insurance costs as well as Medicare/Medicaid costs. The burden this places on Medicare doesn’t quite end here however. Beyond good publicity, private health insurance companies have little reason to proactivly offer real preventative treatments knowing that later-in-life illnesses will be covered by another insurer (most likely Medicare). So while private health insurers skip this cos, it’s Medicare that picks up the bill for this lack of preventative later-in-life illness treatment. Furthermore, it’s far more costly to provide these treatments than it is to prevent them.

Single Payer Health Care

A Single Payer system would effectively fix the bulk of these problems. As a non-profit organization, such a plan would have the benefit of reduced costs all around. Private health insurance companies spend a lot of money, time and resources underwriting (screening prospective members), and deciding whether or not to even cover them as well as going back and forth with providers (who shift their end of the costs back on the insurance who then shifts that cost to its members). Other costs include, advertising, paying dividends, well-paid CEOs and executives and lobbying politicians to discourage them from passing any health care bill which might reduce their market share or profit margins. They also pay for tactically misleading advertisements scare the public into believing horrific (though incorrect) things about proposed legislature. These costs are all passed onto customers by way of higher deductible and premiums. A public plan would forego these costs.

In addition to all of this, there would exist the advantage of having economy of scale. A Single Payer plan covering the entire country would be able to truly spread out costs per unit, to a far greater extent than any single private health insurance can (because of the number of customers it would have). And since the same plan would cover its members throughout their life, there would be real incentive to provide proactive treatments to later-in-life illnesses to avoid the cost of emergency treatments down the road. Other advanced countries have universal health coverage of this nature (or something closer to it, and less privatized than the United States) and are able to ensure their entire populations for less money per person, and health care consumes a far smaller share of their GDP. While many detractors will object, claiming that such a plan would be too costly, the US pays more in taxes for Medicare/Medicaid and government employee insurance as a percentage of GDP than other nations pay for their Single Payer Plan. People in these countries also have lower infant mortality rates and longer lifespans. Taiwan provides the perfect test case. Several years ago, Taiwan moved away from a privatized system to Single Payer (modeled after our Medicare system). The result was virtually universal health care coverage for a small percentage of their GDP. The United States already has the ideal plan in place: Medicare. It simply needs to be expanded to cover everyone.