Retro Repost: The Public Option

In Politics on May 16, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts

(Originally published by The Rapt in 2009)

The Public Option
How will America deal with the growing healthcare crisis?

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We expect our government to help create opportunities for success.  We expect our government to protect our freedom.  But when it comes to the most basic ideal in that founding phrase – life – should we expect our government to be responsible?

For the next few weeks, Congress will be intensely debating the concept of a “public option” in the healthcare reform bill they hope to pass by August.  For Republicans, the public option is another step towards a socialist state.  For Democrats, the public option is a method to control the rising prices of private insurers and to provide healthcare insurance to the tens of millions of uninsured.  For most of the American people, the public option has no meaning at all.

We treat our healthcare system the same way we treat our health, we only deal with it when something is gravely wrong.  The government has ignored the problem of rising healthcare costs because the American people have not seen it as a priority.  Currently, healthcare expenses are consuming 16% of our GDP.  At nearly $8,000 per person, America has, by far, the costliest healthcare system of any country.  Yet, healthcare reform has only recently become a topic in the national conversation.  In times of economic prosperity, we can afford to be ignorant.  Money, although not the best solution, generally tends to be the quickest and simplest one.  Our incomes were rising along with our premiums and deductibles, so we failed to notice a difference.  The financial crisis has taken away the safety net and has exposed various economic issues across the country: the inefficiencies of the automobile industry, the poor budgetary management of California, and the deep flaws in our healthcare system.

Although rising costs and a growing population of uninsured citizens are the most pressing concerns being addressed by the government, the deepest flaw in our healthcare system may be our general ignorance towards the inner workings of the healthcare industry.  Most Americans have no idea how their health insurance works; their only interaction with the healthcare industry involves their initial application and yearly renewals.  Healthcare has become nothing more than a few dollars automatically deducted from our paychecks.  No one knows how physicians are compensated, how insurance companies operate, how the pharmaceutical companies work with both to increase their own profits – it is an ignorance we treasure because in the end, we hope that we will never have to use what we have purchased.  With any other “product” this attitude would be absurd, but with healthcare, the most personal and vital purchase we will ever make, this is the norm.

The current free market healthcare system promotes profits over patient health.  Insurance companies have no reason to attract the sick and elderly, no reason to accept claims – their business model is based on denying coverage.  Pharmaceutical companies focus on drugs that will increase their profit margins, not necessarily on what will provide the greatest health benefit.  This same revenue-driven mentality carries over to providers, physicians and hospitals, who overutilize treatments to increase the money they will be reimbursed from insurance companies.  The physicians’ motto, “Do no harm,” applies to our bodies, but apparently not to our wallets.  Is this solely their fault?  No.  It’s a culture created by our indifference to our health.  Just as we have turned a blind eye to warnings about smoking and obesity, we have overlooked the fundamental inconsistencies in healthcare compensation.  Healthcare professionals are only working within the framework that we have given them.

Where does this ignorance come from?  The healthcare industry is intricately linked.  It is complicated.  But it is knowable.  The information is out there in the public domain, we just choose other streams of entertainment and distraction instead.  Sadly, this ignorance is just our standard approach to things we feel are beyond us.  If a topic is not force-fed to us through employee trainings, school or television, we feel no need to learn about it, regardless of its importance to our lives.  As the amount of information available to us has increased, so has our indifference to it.  We close off our minds to only the easiest of thoughts.  We have stopped being active participants in government and only engage in thoughtful discourse after issues have been distilled to their simplest and most visceral forms.  Healthcare reform is just another “large” concept that we, as normal citizens, do not feel capable enough to weigh in on.

Given the intricacies of our current system, one tidy solution does not exist.  One bill cannot replace an industry that has lasted for half a century, but it can establish the foundation for change – a change that will ensure all citizens are taken care of for their basic health needs.  On the surface, universal care seems like a path to higher costs for taxpayers.  But in our current system, the uninsured become even greater burdens on taxpayers as they often receive their health services through a costlier path: the emergency room.  The majority of uninsured ER services are billed to the government; the services that are not billed become absorbed by the hospital and eventually result in higher expenses for other insured patients.  A government-sponsored plan also benefits the insured, as a larger pool of insured citizens will lead to lower premiums and deductibles.

Universal care is only the first step in reform though.  We need to embrace our market-driven healthcare system and become informed consumers.  We need to dedicate ourselves to understanding the products the insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are offering.  We need to think about preventative care and how we can best utilize these offered products – not just for illnesses, but also for how we can continue to be healthy.  The public option we are facing is not a government health plan, but the decision of whether or not we are going to take full responsibility for our health.



One Response to “Retro Repost: The Public Option”

  1. […] do we value our individual freedoms so much that we would risk the health of all?  In a previous article, I made the case that it really was on us to learn more about our health and how healthcare works. […]

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