It appears that the American Dream is dead as the Democrats have essentially no chance in passing some sort of healthcare reform package. The stunning loss of the senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy has now given the Republicans the ability to filibuster any significant healthcare legislation.
More disappointing is that Americans seem willing to accept the fact that they can live without healthcare. In a blog at US News and World Report titled 21 Things We’re Learning to Live Without, besides abstaining from cable TV, a home phone, prepared foods, and lattes, healthcare was also on the list. Millions of Americans are apparently “simply hoping they don’t get seriously ill or hurt.” How can this happen in supposedly the wealthiest nation in the world? Too many Americans are literally one illness or accident away from financial ruin as medical costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
While President Obama and the Democrats no doubt will try to salvage what they can from their hard work over the past year, they need to be thoughtful about their future proposals. Though the public doesn’t like the thought of insurance companies turning away those with pre-existing conditions, the fact is that this practice exists because we don’t mandate everyone have health insurance. As George Halvorson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, noted to make healthcare affordable a double mandate must apply – everyone must sell (that is health insurers must sell coverage to everyone who desires it) and everyone must buy (all consumers must purchase). Otherwise, those who are healthy would not participate and instead would wait until they needed it. Those who are already ill will purchase health insurance. As a result, insurance companies would only receive payments from those who need medical care, which can’t possibly cover costs of chemotherapies and hospital stays which are in the tens of thousands per treatment. Since the healthy don’t subsidize the sick, insurance companies would simply go bankrupt.
With the President and his Democratic party concerned about a Republican resurgence, he has already refocused his attention on large institutions like banks and redirecting the populace anger there rather than working on meaningful change. He may try the same tactic on insurers in an effort to get some healthcare reform passed.
In doing so, he may simply ignore the truth of the double mandate and make insurers not only cover everyone but also have the federal government set the rates. President Obama knows of course that it would only be a matter of time that the government would take over healthcare as insurers would have no choice but to pull out in this financially unsustainable model. If a single payer system occurs be prepared for rationing of medical care. Imagine long waiting lists to see a specialist, getting surgery done, or wondering if a treatment might be approved. Certainly some of these problems occur already with private insurers, but imagine if the healthcare system was run by the DMV. Is this actually better?
It’s equally unfortunate and more disappointing that the Republican party over the past year essentially only had one mission – derail any proposals from the Obama administration. Without healthcare reform to make insurance coverage more affordable to employers, families, and individuals, America will no longer be viewed as the vibrant superpower nation it has been over the past couple of decades but a country unable to provide the basic healthcare needs to its populace because its politicians were too paralyzed to do anything but score political points for the next election. Because of their failure to lead, it is increasingly clear that in the United States healthcare coverage isn’t a right but a luxury.
If Americans and employers are constantly worried about saving money for a future expensive illnesses or medical problems, then when will they ever feel secure enough or freed enough to take risks, invest, and dream?
*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*