Health Insurance - the New
3, 2009 as the "“A doctor's view: escaping the maelstrom.”
in Oregonian (on-line edition) and The Stump
Author: Samuel Metz
Smoking kills. So does the health insurance industry.
In the 20th century our tobacco industry, threatened by
newly revealed associations between its product and a lung
cancer epidemic, diverted public discussion from the
cancer consequences of cigarettes to a multitude of highly
charged and largely irrelevant issues. They succeeded so
well that even now, fifty years after the first assaults,
it still freely sells its dangerous products around the
country with only minor packaging concessions.
Now in the 21st century, our health insurance industry,
similarly threatened by an impeding financial and health
calamity from its product, has diverted public discussion
from providing essential health care at affordable prices
to a variety of distracting issues. And with similar
success - the health insurance industry stills ride a
crest of prosperity that is the envy of other industries.
What's the difference? Tobacco only affected the 40% of
the population that smoked when the cigarette-cancer
association began in the 1950s and the 20% that still do.
The public crusade by the tobacco industry to discredit
the medical findings allowed smokers without cancer to
continue smoking, encouraged young non-smokers to begin
the habit, and discredited the legal claims of debilitated
But our health insurance industry affects everybody. It
extracts over $1,000 annually from every citizen for its
own administrative costs (not entirely devoted to lobbying
and profit). This industry has caused 48,000 annual deaths
from inadequate access to health care. Its denial of
coverage to policy holders produced most of the 700,000
annual bankruptcies in the US last year. Its monopoly of
health care financing is the single most important reason
that the US ranks at the bottom of public health measures
among industrialized nations.
And our health insurance industry succeeded as well in
this century as the tobacco industry did in the last.
Witness the "reforms" discussed seriously in Congress -
all variations on a single theme: "Make every citizen buy
our insurance at their own expense. If our prices are too
high, make the government buy our insurance for them."
Is this a great deal for the health insurance industry or
what? What a victory for free enterprise. What a triumph
for keeping the government out of essential services. But
what about our health?
We already outspend every other nation on health care and
yet lead in not one measure of public health. Can it be
that our doctors, nurses, and hospitals are that much
worse than everywhere else? Our health insurance industry
would have us believe so. They would have us believe that
we still spend too little on insurance (their for-profit
private health insurance), not because we spend too much.
More government subsidies so citizens can buy more health
insurance! And thank Congress for protecting us from
government interference in health care!
This is the best evidence of the industry's success - the
intensity our Congress and their constituents devote to
distracting issues - the role of government in private
lives, how our American free enterprise system makes us
special, whether tax dollars should fund abortion, why
working people should provide free services to those who
don't work, how illegal aliens sap our country's strength,
the evil of socialist programs in foreign countries, and
the inherent inefficiency of any government to run
In short, the industry successfully diverts all attention
from the root problem - that our method of financing
health care through for-profit private health insurance
has brought American families and our government to the
brink of catastrophe. Instead, the public debate is
stalled on unsolvable peripheral issues.
What can be done? We can refuse to be distracted. We can
demand that our Congressmen focus on the task at hand -
What have you done to provide essential health care to
everyone regardless of ability to pay, employment status,
or medical condition? We can wave aside answers that
equivocate, that we'll deal with this as soon as we
resolve the abortion issue, or the States' Rights issue,
or the welfare abuse issue. We can insist that our
representatives stay focused.
With the health insurance industry spending $1.5 million
each day to keep them, and us, distracted, focus is a lot
to ask. But we must. We must regain the initiative. We
must change the challenge confronting our Congressmen from
"Make everyone purchase insurance regardless of ability to
pay" to "Give essential health care to everyone regardless
of ability to pay."
Keep at it. Maybe Americans can fare better in their
battle against the health industry behemoths in this
century than we did against those of the tobacco industry
in the last.