Why are profits more important than health?

Published 7:50 am Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Even after President Obama’s speeches to Congress and to supporters here in Minnesota, the path to reforming our health care system still appears to lead in only two directions:

The government solves the problems through regulations and subsidies.

The free market manages the problems through supply and demand.

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I know that other opinions and options are out there in the underbrush on either side of the path to reform, so why aren’t we hearing about them?

One possibility is that the media, as usual, provides stories focusing on a clearly defined “conflict” between two opponents, even if the majority has views that don’t clearly fit either of the two positions being featured. Reporting on multiple perspectives and options is much more difficult; it means journalists walk around and do some research instead of sit and listen to the loudest spokespeople.

But it’s also possible that the absence of other opinions is based on fear. I have been reluctant to air my ideas about health care reform in a public forum (until now) because I’ve been afraid that anything said or written will be twisted by others. Or that after taking the effort to speak up, I’ll just be shouted down or called a liar by those who don’t agree with me. Or I’ll be ignored, because I only have ideas to offer to the debate, not campaign contributions.

However, it’s long past time for those who aren’t completely opposed to health care reform or who aren’t solidly behind a single-payer government plan to speak out. A silent majority ends up approving — and having to live with — whatever gets destroyed or created in Washington.

Let’s start with the reality that started us down this path: Our health care system is in trouble, mainly because of how much it costs.

The American economy spends so much on health care that it has become a financial drag on productivity; the costs are as hard on employers and citizens as high rates and taxes.

Now, here are some questions I haven’t seen discussed or answered as we’ve struggled down the path to reform.

Why should businesses be the main party responsible for health care choices and financing? Why is it so vital that health care — insurance and costs — be part of the relationship between employers and employees?

Why is it unacceptable for bureaucrats working for a government agency to make decisions about health care options for people when those kinds of decisions are already being made by bureaucrats working for insurance companies? Both are faceless and nameless. Both interfere in the relationship between doctor and patient. Why can’t we stop anybody from looking over the shoulders of doctors and patients? Why can’t we push all of them off the path to reform and leave them behind in the bushes?

Why is protecting the profits of drug companies and insurers so necessary? Why is the “freedom” for investors to make money from their health care stock portfolios more important than people staying healthy or getting treated when they get sick? If that’s not what opponents of current reform proposals really believe, they are going to have to do a better job at making that clear.

I wish reform meant no bureaucrats of any kind would be getting between me and my doctor. I wish nobody was “profiting” from anybody’s illnesses. I wish paying for health care wasn’t based on a separate charge for each “service” received but based on outcome instead. I wish the government would make it possible for all “consumers” of health care to pay for basic health care by creating health savings accounts at our local banks, tax free for those with ample incomes, subsidized by the government for those in lower income brackets.

I guess only time will tell if my wishes have a chance of coming true.

David Behling resides in Albert Lea.