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By Sylvia Hampton

October 11, 2009 (San Diego)--After all the right-wing screaming at town hall meetings that “government run health care“ would kill granny and throw the country into a communist state, we find from a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that 65% favor a public option plan to compete with private for-profit insurance companies.


But the powerful Democratic Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee caved into the powerful insurance lobby and his bill has no public option---just a mandate that everyone buy insurance and anyone who doesn’t gets fined. Baucus reported $1,763,799 in donations from the health industry for just his last election.

Insurance companies simply pool the premium money and pay the claims (sometimes after multiple denials and delays.). They don’t provide care. Doctors and nurses do that. But, who does Max Baucus support? The insurance companies. When he rolled out his plan at a news conference, smiling and dripping with platitudes, he appeared to me like a 4th grader giving a book report on a book he had not read. It was as though an invisible gun was pointed to the back of his head, held by the invisible insurance company lobbyist.

His health bill would offer subsidies (your tax dollars) on a sliding scale to help pay the companies for the mandated plans. It would create state-based exchanges where individuals and small businesses could shop for insurance. But the companies have free rein to charge whatever they can. The companies get a captive market of forty million new clients and make even bigger profits. The cheaper plans will be the ones with the fewest doctors to choose from, the worst benefits and reliability. The CEOs of the largest insurance companies get paid about $24 million a year to figure out all this stuff.

We are the only country with a for-profit system as the driving force in health care. We spend more than enough to have universal coverage, but we don’t get it because 1/3 of our healthcare dollars don’t go to pay doctors and hospitals for healthcare but into the pockets of middlemen. We spend per capita $7290, still leaving almost 50 million uninsured and over 60% of bankruptcies are the result of medical bills. Compare that to countries with single payer/nonprofit health care: France: $3601; United Kingdom: $2992; Japan: $2581. The average cost in developed nations: $2964. And they have healthier populations.

The public option is critical to control costs and act as a check on private insurance companies because no anti-trust regulations are applicable to private insurers. Real competition is currently stymied by large national insurance companies buying up smaller firms and creating a monopoly. In some states, a single company may control over 83 percent of the insurance market. Even lower premiums are out of reach for millions of Americans because of the lack of competition. Family coverage, even in large risk pools is $13,000 a year.

Baucus thinks co-ops would be good (whispered into his ear by the guy with the gun.) Companies could sell across state lines. But some states have regulations with strong protections for consumers and aggressive enforcement while others do not. If you buy a plan that is issued in Wyoming and you live in California---you are subject to the laws of Wyoming if there is a dispute over payment of claims. Older people will pay more for coverage and most will get fewer benefits. The proposal will limit out–of-pocket payments when you get sick, but that will just be shifted back onto the premiums. They call it sausage making. I call it instant garbage. The real solution is single payer. Check it out.

Sylvia Hampton is a community activist inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of fame for 2008 for her work in the fields of healthcare reform, social justice and reproductive health. She is the past president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego County and served on President Nixon’s Title X Family Planning Council. Her monthly Community Forum column is published in the Rancho Bernardo Sun, Diamond Gateway Signature, and her Soapbox in the East County Magazine. Opinions are Sylvia’s alone and not to be interpreted as the policies of the League of Women Voters or East County Magazine.

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