I have an idea for a health insurance company, one that is sure to work really well. Here’s the pitch:
You pay me a fee every month–say, between $500 and $1,000–and I pocket the money. In return, in the event you need someone to cover your medical expenses, I’ll tell you in so many words to go fuck yourself, you’re on your own. I’ll use any excuse to deny your claim, and if one of my employees does the unthinkable and puts me in a position of having to shell out money to pay for your freeloading, I’ll send that imbecile to join you on the unemployment line.
I might feel the occasional bout of generosity; I might deign to throw you the occasional bone, just to keep you complacent, and cover some minor thing. But don’t expect me to pay for your heart operation. What were you doing wearing it out by making it beat so much, anyway? Don’t you know that’s a sure-fire way to end up needing surgery at some point? Especially if you don’t take care of yourself by eating right and exercising regularly? And you can forget about that cancer treatment. Drugs and radiation treatments cost money. Pay for it yourself. I’m busy counting.
By the way, you can forget about complaining. Even if you manage to get through the array of computers set up to discourage you from lodging a complaint, any human employee is going to give you the runaround, too. Raise too much of a ruckus, and I’ll just cancel your policy. That’ll show you, you ingrate.
And I won’t stop there. Just in case some uppity customer decides this isn’t legal, or shouldn’t be, I’ll use some of the money you pay me every month to bribe politicians in the form of campaign contributions to pass legislation protecting my right to bilk you for those monthly fees. Oh, sure, you might complain. You might even try to vote out corrupt politicians who accept my bribes, but by the time you get off your lazy ass I’ll have bought pretty much everyone in D.C. and the fifty states who might be capable or inclined to resist. Let’s face it: with campaigns costing more and more money each cycle, politicians listen to those who can fork over a hell of a lot more than that measly ten or twenty dollars you can afford to part with. You’re screwed.
Great idea, right? Well, not for you, but we’re talking about me. You don’t factor into the equation, except as an ever-opening wallet. What’s that? You don’t think it’s so hot a concept? You’re right, it isn’t. But that’s exactly what you buy into whenever you sign up for insurance from companies ranging from Humana to Kaiser Permanente. The only difference between what I pitched to you, and what the health insurance industry tells you, is that I’m being up front about my intentions.
The health insurance industry is the among the biggest and most successful scam operations in the history of the United States. It is set up to get you to pay money in return for almost nothing. And because what little public health care exists is severely underfunded, and qualifications limited only to certain cross-sections of the poor and elderly, this means your options for alternatives are extremely limited. In fact, nearly fifty million Americans have no recourse but to go without insurance, because they cannot afford the premiums (I’m one of them, by the way).
How did all this get started? As Michael Moore pointed out in his excellent documentary, SiCKO (which I blogged about last year), the scam was created when the CEO of Kaiser Permanente at the time had his flunkies meet with then-president Richard Nixon to discuss how the insurance industry could kill three birds with one stone: dismantle what public health care system existed, ensure that it could never return, and become obscenely wealthy in the process. It wasn’t long afterward that Nixon pushed through Congress legislation that would fundamentally alter the health care system of the United States–for the worse.
What Nixon and Kaiser rammed through Congress resulted in the creation of the HMO system we suffer today. It’s the scam outfit that separates you from your money, while denying you coverage for your medical expenses. And you allow it to go on. Why is this? I could write a dissertation about it, but essentially it all boils down to fear and the dominance of the right in the media on issues such as health care. Professor George Lakoff of Berkley University described in 2005 how conservatives have come to shape and control the national discussion, and get Americans to vote against their own interests. The fear element involves scaring you with horror stories of socialism and the loss of freedom, never mind that you’ve already given up your freedom.
The problem is compounded not only by the failure of the Democratic Party to oppose this sort of swindle, but in its embrace of the status quo as a matter of policy. While Barack Obama builds up his illusion of progressivism, his actual history suggests he is not prepared to challenge the status quo at all, but merely is all too willing to continue it. Hillary Clinton joins him in being among the top recipients of bribe money from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The two Democratic rivals for the presidency have even taken millions of dollars in bribe money from so-called health professionals. And we all know where Republican John McCain stands on the issue of health care: more of the same.
This is the scam you pay for with your tax dollars, and the money you pay out of pocket. In my next entry, I’ll tell you how you can do something about it.