By Dr. Ken Locke, Chieftain.com.
I recently entered open enrollment week. Once a year, I pore over the different options offered through my employee health benefits plan. I must choose coverage by one of four companies, each, in turn, offering various plans, called high deductible, premium, ultra-exclusive and so forth. To make these choices, I have to figure our family’s present list of chronic illnesses, medications, health needs and possible future needs, fit all this into some kind of crude algorithm comparing such factors as monthly deductions, co-pays, co-insurance, out-of-network charges, medications and lab coverage, and on and on. In other words, I have to sort through all this complexity to finally choose the plan that would seem to screw me and my family the least. But my family and I are among the lucky ones. At least we have (for now) a pretty good employee group plan. There are 155 million people currently getting health insurance of some kind through their employers. Sounds great until you start to realize a good deal of our workforce doesn’t even get paid sick leave. Thirty percent have such high deductibles and low savings that if they or their loved ones get a serious acute illness with complications, they are bankrupt. Every year, rising premiums and medication costs bite off a bigger piece of our paychecks (which haven’t grown much for decades now). Lose your job; lose your health insurance. And finally, there are the 28 million of us who are uninsured, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
So why do we put up with this? Especially when there are more than a dozen examples of advanced nations out there that have universal health care, good comprehensive quality care for every single citizen, at almost half the per-capita price we pay. Well, we have the best medical care in the world — don’t we? Some of us do. But as a whole, these other nations have as good or better statistical outcomes. And we are starting to backslide.
So why do we in good conscience put up with this? Well, health care is a $1 trillion pie. Huge insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies and for-profit hospital chains elbow one another for bigger slices of this pie. They certainly don’t want it to shrink. So these health care corporations spend millions on Washington, D.C., lobbyists, political action committee funds, campaigns, including subsidizing both parties, lavish inaugurations, etc. And they also use this money (our money, mind you) to target us citizens with a well-financed and well-thought out disinformation advertising campaign.
Who hasn’t heard, for example, that Canada’s or England’s or France’s universal health care systems practice socialized medicine, with dreary long lines and rude staff like at the Department of Motor Vehicles? Sure, their medications cost a fraction of ours, but they haven’t been subject to our strict standards. And they cut corners and don’t use our expensive high-tech diagnostic and treatment machines. Care is rationed. But then there are those strange tales from those who have actually received care in those countries and were amazed.
Think about it. How come there are no politicians in those countries running on the platform of closing down their universal health programs and delivering people over to for-profit insurance companies? If their health care is so lousy, this surely would be a popular issue. But it’s quite the opposite — like touching the third rail. It would be like a politician here running with the banner, “Abolish Medicare.” But the huge health care corporations are losing the information battle. Recent polls show 60 percent of Americans now want universal single payer-type health care, Republicans as well as Democrats. And there’s a small but growing number of Democratic candidates starting to run on the universal single-payer plank. But not yet the Democratic national party. It would cause a tectonic shift from its reliance on deep-pocket donors. But the disinformation campaign is shifting. It’s starting to say things like: “Yeah, we’re for it … in the long run. “Not realistic to get it passed; need something more bipartisan.” “Keep the ‘universal’ thing, for sure, but something like … universal ‘coverage.’ ” Or they say: “How are you gonna pay for it? America can’t afford that.”
It’s not a matter of affording it; it’s a matter of priorities. Yes, we can afford to eliminate the enormous waste of health insurance administrative costs, radically cut back drug prices and see to it every single American has quality care. No more medical bill bankruptcies. No more contrived complexities. No more open enrollment.
Ken Locke and his wife have lived 26 years in Pueblo West. He worked as medical director at Spanish Peaks Mental Health Center for 10 years and as a forensic psychiatrist at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo for 13 years. He retired in 2015.