Why Do We Need Health Care Reform? Don't Ask George Will

One of the things I hope to do with my post is to call out misleading statements and statistics, outright lies and illogical assertions by opponents of meaningful health care reform—and to rat out the front groups that insurers and other special interests are funding to kill reform or, failing that, shape it to their benefit.

I'm starting with a biggie, conservative author and columnist George Will, who suggests in his June 28 column in The Washington Post that, because of the complexity and expense of reforming the American health care system, maybe we would be better off just leaving well enough alone.

Well enough? For him, maybe. He's got a great gig at the Post and as a TV network pundit, and he has sold lots of books, so he probably doesn't have to worry, as most other Americans do, about being just one layoff away from joining the 50 million other men, women and children in the ranks of the uninsured. And even if the Post gave him a pink slip this afternoon, chances are he has stashed enough away that he can afford to shell out the nearly $13,000 that the average annual premium for decent family coverage costs these days (and that was in 2007).

The median household income in this country is just about $50,000. I'm betting it has been a few years since Will faced paying more than a fourth of his family's annual income—before taxes—just to cover the health insurance premiums. More and more of us also face paying thousands more of our hard-earned dollars in out-of-pocket expenses before the coverage we pay so dearly for actually kicks in. If Will and other critics of real reform just did a little simple math, they would understand why the number of people without insurance is so high and growing so rapidly, and why at least 25 million more of us are now under-insured.

After telling us we might live to regret trying to reform our dysfunctional non-system, Will makes this assertion:

"Most Americans do want different health care: They want 2009 medicine at 1960 prices."

Yeah, that would be nice, and it sure makes for a great quip, but no one I know expects that. Maybe he knows "most Americans" better than I do, but I doubt it. Instead, I suspect he sees the world in much the same way insurance company executives see it from their spacious offices, the windows of their chauffeur-driven limos and the corporate jets that fly them comfortably over "most Americans." When you're at that altitude, it's hard to get a real fix on what most Americans want, much less what so many of them so desperately need.

To be fair and perfectly honest, I saw the world that way too for most of the 20 years I worked inside the insurance industry. The more money I made and the more perks I was given, the less I thought about the hardships many people face who are not as privileged. It took seeing thousands of people standing in the rain in long lines to get care in a barn just a few miles from where I grew up to finally get it.

It is true, as Will notes, that many Americans enrolled in employer-sponsored health insurance plans have been able to rely on their employers to pay the lion's share of the premiums. What is also true, but not mentioned in his column, is that fewer and fewer Americans can get coverage through their employers these days, and that of those who can, most are now having to pay a larger share of the premiums and much higher out-of-pocket expenses.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, the number of small employers offering coverage has dropped from 61 percent to 38 percent since 1993. And the way insurers and employers are dealing with medical inflation is to shift more of the financial burden onto the shoulders of working men and women.

Insurers and their ideological allies, like Grace Marie Turner of the Galen Institute and Betsy McCauaghey of the Hudson Institute, both of whom Will cites as experts in his column and both of whose organizations are corporate funded, say this is a good thing because, they contend, Americans have been insulated for far too long from the real costs of health care.

That's easy for someone to say who has never had to file for bankruptcy, as millions of Americans have, because the insurance coverage they were counting on didn't come close to covering their medical bills when they got sick or had an accident. And it's easy for a rich, famous and out-of-touch columnist to callously content that all Americans really want is 2009 medicine at 1960 prices, so let's just call the whole thing off.

Wendell Potter is the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.


Kudos to you Wendell. It will be through individuals such as yourself where the truth of our healthcare system can be brought into the Light and more and more of us will know the truth of what we have chosen to ignore. We can be the change we wish to see and you and your divine gifts will help us all to BE the ones we've been waiting for. Blessings of Everlasting Light and Love, csp

As someone who is under-insured, I find it so frustrating to talk to friends who don't understand what the problem is. As far as they're concerned, they have coverage, so why "mess with it?" I get so tired of trying to explain that everyone should be able to afford quality health insurance. Thank you for "seeing the light" and helping others to "see it," too.

i Will start out with a comparison. to leave well enough alone is what these insurance giants should be asking themselves or should have thought of before they agreed to a sixty five million dollar contract. with huge perks for one person. profits vs. stability. for example. the auto industry. enjoyed high profits for years. the auto industry swam in huge profits with very little overhead. producing merchandise that would require expensive repair cost well before there foreign competitors.( there down fall.) the world rejected the skillfully engineered, high profiting junk equipment they were pumping out. Mr George Will is it wise for America to " leave well enough alone "? our heath insurance industry in on a path that will ultimately need a bail out as well. it is of my opinion that this bail out will be titled differently. maybe a restructure. could it be operation revamp. this health issue is very different than the auto collapse / bailout. the merchandise is now the human life. i would advise the health reform critics to carefully choose the correct path at the fork in this road. for the American tax payer is who runs this country. not your board members and CEO's. as tolerance levels grow thin with bail outs we ( tax payers ) will not allow greed to dictate our well being. can we imagine a corporate mandated pay cap. let us start making heath care cost cuts from within. we will create options for health insurance and this issue will be closed. let this be a lesson to corporate America. we have had enough of greed! i will end with a quote that baffles me to this day. "whats in your wallet ? "

I wonder why, Wendell it took you 20 years to come forward, did your conscious all of a sudden kick in just before retirement?

Better late than never. At least Wendell has a conscience.

Here's a proposal: don't allow insurance companies to base their premiums on your age/health status/habits/etc. Make it illegal as if it were a form of discrimination (ie. "The right to health insurance"). That way, their actuarial computations would have to take into account the pool of Americans wanting health insurance. That way, we can truly shop for the lowest premiums. The only differences in cost would be the efficiency of their back-offices. That would surely be cheaper on the whole as compared to the current system (which is cheap until you have to renew your insurance after you've gotten sick). Although the healthier would have to take up some of the slack of the unhealthy. Plus there should be a minimum deductible (say 3000 dollars) so that patient's and doctor's decisions are still coupled to cost. Just add in some incentives for a healthy lifestyle and (haven't figured that out yet), and we're set.

People are so worried about losing their job, coverage, denial of treatment, which seems to increase bank deposit latetly. That means stimulus funding mainly goes toward bank deposit for a rainy day increasing jobless rate. It proves again that a healthy society yields better productivity, prosperity. It is time to 'Change' the notion of the public health as a fundamental human right and install 'a safety system for all' like all of the other industrialized nations, I think.

We have a very similar problem in health care access as we do in media --television and radio-- access. Private fiefdoms have been set up on top of the public in order to enrich the feudal lords at the expense of the common people. Why? Because this arrangement provides the aristocrats with enough financial and political clout to control who gets to run for important elected offices, like Congress, Senate, or President of the United States. Like O'Brien said in 1984: There's no ultimate reason for wanting power. It is the end in itself. After a high, single-digit number of gin and tonics or martinis on a Saturday evening in June, just as the lawn party is wrapping up, I can hear George Will saying something to that same effect as his buddy or his wife helps him to his car--you know, in an unguarded moment. He should know, after all. He's one of the deceptive mouthpieces placed by the ruling class in order to stifle meaningful public political discourse (without the public realizing they're being gagged). O'Brien has nothing on Will. So there really can't be reform. There can only be a strangling of meaningful dialogue, with the usual failed results, as long as we the people let ourselves be controlled by the corporate chiefs, deceived by their media ministers, and frustrated by their officeholding stooges. For those in power, and their George Will-ish propagandists, reform would be like giving the manor to the serfs.

Mr. Potter, I too applaud your humanity for taking the plunge and decided to root for the little guy. The loudest drum beat of the anti-reform crowd is that if you have a nationalized plan, you will have rationed care. See 7-7-09 WSJ Opinion page http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124692973435303415.html It is a well crafted argument that you see everywhere. Care to comment? FF

A "well-crafted argument"? I'm afraid I must have missed that part because all I saw was a cheap effort at using selective statistical manipulation to achieve the same old tired fear-mongering that the US ruling class has been using quite successfully to motivate gullible authoritarian conservatives into dieing for their leaders causes, and doing it on their own dime. And being proud of it! (grooaan.. why do they do it??!) What you will rarely see in stories like this WSJ piece, is the use of Canadian statistics and/or anecdotes to make their case. This despite the universal health-care we Canadians adopted long ago. And the reason for that is simple. The typical American doesn't know anybody in Great Britain whom they can ask whether these things are true or not, whereas this is not the case when it comes to knowing somebody who is living or has lived in Canada. Because if they did ask, they would hear the very same thing I am going to tell you about this attempt to deceive you. It's Bull-S**t! Period.