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.


the worlds greatest health care? Based on what? You are either not a provider of health care, or have not required significant health care. In any event, the design and implementation of a system would determine its utility, efficiency and value. The so-called "rush' is that chronic disease is preventable or can be attenuated by early intervention .Lose a single Mom, and you now have a cost multiplier. What liberties are preserved by restricting procedures and payments by for profit insurance companies? health care is provided by providers: Doc, nurses, technicians, counselors, etc. and everyone needs some form, so there is no such thing as health "insurance". got the feeling you support the military: Single payer. you use the internet, which came from the government's Arpanet. there is a lot of lip service to sanctity of life, here is an opportunity to put it into action. As for veterans, we surely didn't serve to benefit insurance companies, nor have family members disallowed, rejected, bankrupt or die prematurely.

We have the last 30 years' track record of a privately-oriented health care operation, whose evolved financial structure and incentives are so skewed that the provision of care -- which is the point -- is far too uncertain for too many Americans, even those who are covered. The market is perfect for defining supply-and-demand for things like bicycles and sporting goods or plumbing services, but not for organizing and delivering health-related skills and resources. It is not appropriate for ensuring the health and well being of an entire nation of citizens. If government is not doing a good job at the tasks we assign it to do, we at least have the power, whether we use it or not, to change it. There is very little power to change what corporations have to do to ensure their continued growth. That is the essential disconnect here and why too many people speak in absolutes while passing in the night. Health care needs to be served by the private market, just like a city hires a contractor to build a library, not controlled by it. It is amusing to hear status-quo supporters blast the idea that health decisions will be made by the notorious "government beaurocrats," when they are now made by private sector bean-counters. Maybe that's the choice: publicly accountable beaurocrat vs. privately incentivized employee. Really, we can do a hell of a lot better than that.

Actually, Medicare, according to my Ayn Rand/Reagan worshipping brother, is a fairly efficient program. So probably not the best example to use in your anti-goverment run health care argument. Even many conservatives agree with that

Medicare does, in fact, work and has worked since 1965. It has done a great job of keeping health care costs under control to the tune of about twelve percent under its private industry counterparts. Funding went south when the Bush Administration added Part D with no corresponding method to fund the new drug benefit. They looked good, all the while sticking a huge monkey wrench into the program. One might even speculate it was intentional, if one is to believe that politicos can think that far ahead, which I do not. The true dinosaur is employment based group health plans. This practice grew out of the post WW2 economy as a retention tool. Government tax policy encouraged the free ride for good little workers in major industries. Now that we will all be working 39 hours at WalMart, if we're lucky, we should stop believing in the health care fairy and face a stiff dose of reality. We all know it bites.

This item is full of the usual right-wing bullshit. For example: "Government can't even run Medicaid or Medicare." Really? Government is doing a great job on both of these programs. Medicare's administrative costs are a fraction of those in the private health care industry. And it provides decent health care for some 40 million U.S. senior citizens, at a fraction of what Big Health Inc. charges. "Wake up before we lose every single liberty that our forefathers fought and died for." Irrelevant moralizing. What liberty? To pay ever-increasing health care premiums? To find, just before an expensive operation, that our insurance doesn't cover it? To be refused coverage because we once had a disease that is now cured? If that;s liberty, I'll take government "control."

It's disturbing to me that whenever government healthcare is mentioned, the speaker usually refers to the Medicare system. This seems to me to be a misnomer. Medicare is an insurance system - not healthcare. The VA, on the other hand, is a highly functional system of providing health care. While any system is only as good as the individuals who make it function, the care provided by the VA healthcare system is based upon established standards of care and best practices. As a result, patients receive quality and timely care. As a veteran who has experienced employer-sponsored healthplans as well as self-pay options, I am grateful to have access to "government healthcare" - it's the most coordinated and proactive care I've ever received! What is needed seems to me to be a reform of the way we receive care. If what care I can receive is dependent upon how much profit some other entity obtains, then my life is being treated as a commodity - or property - the quality of which depends upon whether someone else can make money as a result. Is this not a perverse form of human trafficking? To profit from the life, health (or lack thereof)of another? It is very different to make a profit on a service, or a product. But when profit is intimately linked to another's physical/mental being, then I think our morality is what needs reform.

TF, you think the VA health system works? Are you serious? .. You are correct when you say that the VA system is government-run health care and is unlike Medicare's insurance only system. That is the problem. .. Fact is, the US Government can't even deliver mail at a profit. Come on folks! Wake up! .. If you like the VA system, you apparently think that rationed health care (Priority Groups), means testing for benefits, and sub-standard procedures (dirty colonoscopy tubes) is the way to go. If the VA system is so good, why don't they do away with TriCare, Medicare, and other government health programs and use the VA system? .. The VA health system is what universal care run by the government would become....a disaster. Even governments with government-run health care are starting to see that. .. A few of the facts: http://www1.va.gov/opa/Is1/1.asp

...just end these wars and use the money to deliver adequate funding to the VA on time. <blockquote>If you like the VA system, you apparently think that rationed health care (Priority Groups), means testing for benefits, and sub-standard procedures (dirty colonoscopy tubes) is the way to go.</blockquote> One more time -- how the hell can anyone still say for-profit insurers don't ration care? The difference is, they do it to maximize their bottom line, not to try to deliver what care they can, with the resources they have, to the greatest number of patients. And if you want to convince people that a government-run system must necessarily perform as badly as our resource-starved VA, you'll have to start by supplying some dirty-colonoscopy stories from the UK, France, et al., and keep going from there. <blockquote>Fact is, the US Government can't even deliver mail at a profit. Come on folks! Wake up!</blockquote> You're too quick to say "can't." Not subsidizing junk mail on the backs of first- and second-class users would be a good start.

"If the VA system is so good, why don't they do away with TriCare, Medicare, and other government health programs and use the VA system?" What?? Are you not awake or just what do you think we've been trying to do all these years? And apparently your the last conservative in the US to know that the VA system is widely agreed upon, and by no less a partisan voice as Bill Kristol, to be the superior health-care system in the USA. I ask you, do you seriously think Aetna would be footing the bill for the tens of thousands of soldiers coming back with injuries that run the entire course of possibilities if they were allowed to drop them? Like hot potatoes they would! Look. Why is the US the only First World government not to adopt it? Cold War rhetoric you've swallowed during the fight against communism. Period. You are now victims of your own BS! Rather fitting in a Machiavellian/Twilight Zone sort of way, doncha think? I sure do.

Potter states that Will suggests we should leave well enough alone. That is not true, Potter has, seemingly intentionally, misstated what Will said. Will's column analyzed many aspects of the costs of health care, and the impending crisis caused by massive deficits, and the massive costs of health reform, and specifically said: "The public, its attention riveted by the fiscal train wreck of trillion-dollar deficits for the foreseeable future, may be coming to the conclusion that we should leave bad enough alone". Notice, Will did not say to leave well enough alone. He specifically used different terminology, which Potter ignored. Will also cited polls and surveys on what Americans are willing to pay for health care. Potter's column is utterly misleading as to what Will said. I think we need health care changes, but Potter's analysis of the Will column is so incomplete and misleading, that Potter hurts the chances for health care reform. Potter comes across more and more as a man who made a lot of money in the insurance business, as an executive, and now sees he can make a lot more as a whistle blower. Let's have a real analysis of what critics of health care reform as proposed by many Democrats, not a misstatement of what these critics say. Potter's analysis of what Will says, versus what Will actually says, is tantamount to lies by Potter.