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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Ounce of Prevention Is Worth Millions in Cure

By Keith R. Schmitz

Conservatives are excellent when it comes to framing. Horrible when it comes to the impact on our lives.

Take their concept "consumer-based health care."

Yes bold men of America. You can bend destiny in your direction and control your health care. You can do it and you should. Take your coverage anywhere, tell medical providers what you will pay and navigate the shoals of almost incomprehensible bills. Never mind your negotiations might have be conducted on your cell phone while the jaws of life pry you out of a wrecked car.

In-house and incessant Journal conservative Patrick McIlheran last week wants the locals to buy into this idea that you too, Mr. Milwaukean, can control your health care.

But, oh darn there is a reality, and that is people are running into problems living real life under high deductible policies that are the cornerstone of consumer-based health care.

The latest issue of the Milwaukee Business Journal runs a story about how the money supposedly being saved using high deductible health insurance -- the kind John McCain wants give you with the $5,000 he will provide families through his socialistic program -- can balloon into big costs. Bear in mind that McCain's gift will fall far short of the $12,000 needed to buy insurance, meaning that the average family at an income of $40,000 will have no insurance at all.

According to the article:
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 22 percent of 686 consumers recently polled said they have curtailed doctor visits because of economic conditions. Another 11 percent said they’ve cut back on the number of prescriptions they get filled or they’re taking smaller doses than prescribed to make the drugs last longer.

Although local numbers are hard to quantify, Milwaukee-area health care practitioners say anecdotally they’ve seen a similar trend.

Patients putting off medical care are a mix of self-pay patients, people with government health care coverage such as Medicaid, and people with commercial health insurance, practitioners said. About 90 percent of the people surveyed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners said they had health insurance.

Michael Repka, executive director and chief executive of the Independent Physicians Network, which provides services for 1,100 physicians in the Milwaukee area, said he has heard from physicians in his group that office visits are down. The drop in visits is attributed in part to high deductible health insurance plans, Repka said.
There could be millions of hard luck stories as a result of these schemes, especially if McCain has his way and employers abandon their health coverage. From personal experience my grandmother passed away just a year before the advent of Medicare because she tried to save money by cutting her high blood pressure meds in half. A lot of good cost savings did her.

McCain wants to throw people onto the market and it is in this country ladies and gentlemen, very predatory. Look at the lending industry. The airwaves on both radio and the TeeVee are filled will commercials enticing people to wipe their bills with second mortgages, mostly of course to pay off medical bills. Many of the people who were tossed onto subprimes had good credit, but they were not able to understand what they were getting into.

There are some things that people can do, like rewiring a house, and we admire them for that. But it is not smart for most to try.

The idea that people really aren't equipped to cipher their medical bills is no slight to the intelligence of the American people as the right wing would like you to think, but they love to appeal to the public ego. I know someone who is in upper management at a leading university teaching hospital who says even she can't figure out the bills.

Yes, these programs have business implications. If we even hope to have a functioning consumer economy we can't have consumers with zero discretionary income because medical bills have sopped all of that up into an insurance sponge.

Let's just call this "solution" what it is. Cost shifting onto already cash-strapped families.

Americans are finally waking up to the fact that other places around the world can provide public health care programs and actually save money doing. The studies and facts are clear as water. It is time we demand it for ourselves.

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