This past week world-renowned TV show Scooby-Doo celebrated its 40th anniversary. As anyone who grew up with Scooby and the Gang knows, this curious, goofy dog and his four friends are famous for exposing otherworldly ghosts and monsters as nothing more than flesh and blood crooks.
Scooby and the Gang have yet to venture into politics, but I’m sure they’d be as curious as I am about why insurance premiums continue to rise faster than both the costs of health care and inflation. The average cost of a family policy now exceeds $13,000 a year, having doubled over the last decade, according to the new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit research group.
If you’re like me, that data caught you off guard. What happened to a nation tightening its collective belt? Experts point the finger at the health care system’s inefficiencies, excessive administrative expenses and inappropriate care. These problems certainly exist. But Scooby and I both know that the real flesh and blood crooks are the private insurance industry and Congress, who are happy to sit in their pockets while mismanagement of the nation’s health care system continues.
Employees are not only paying more in their share of premiums — $3,515 a year, on average. They are getting less coverage for their money because of rising annual deductibles and co-payments.
Dr. Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer at Harvard University and former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, is right on the money when she says that none of the plans under consideration by Congress will reign in costs and increase the number of insured (President Obama’s two main goals).
They won’t, and that’s the essential problem. If you keep health care in the hands of for-profit companies, you can do one or the other — increase coverage by putting more money into the system, or control costs by decreasing coverage. But you cannot do both unless you change the basic structure of the system. On average, the private insurance industry takes 15 to 20 percent right off the top of the premium dollar for its administrative costs and profits. That’s a lot to siphon off by an industry that adds almost nothing of value.
And let’s not forget lobbying. In the first part of 2009 the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries were spending nearly $700,000 a day to influence health care reforms, and the monthly political spending this year has increased by nearly $400,000 more than the monthly average spent in the previous two years, according to Public Campaign Action Fund.
“Why are so many in Congress willing to listen to an industry that is spending tens of millions every month on politics rather than on lowering their premiums or helping to address the costs of health care? They need the cash to pay for their campaigns,” said David Donnelly, National Campaign Director of Public Campaign Action Fund.
(Interestingly enough Senator Max Baucus, a leading architect of the newest reform proposal, has received more contributions than any other congressional candidate from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.)
No matter what inefficiencies and administrative costs exist in the current system of health care management, they’re merely a smokescreen for the private insurance industry, which makes millions off of American businesses and individuals struggling to afford care. The battle for health care reform is the battle for our lives.
We can’t afford the alternative.