Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Fine Print

Surprisingly, the Los Angeles Times has managed to hold onto a couple of solid columnists. One of them, business columnist David Lazarus, has a particularly relevant column up today on the magnanimous but empty gesture made by the health insurance industry on trimming health care costs.

Lazarus reminds us that such offers to cooperate on the issue were made in the past, one during the Carter administration's drive to rein in health care costs and another during the Clinton administration's efforts to do the same. Both times the insurance industry walked away from any deal. Given that history, Lazarus is not feeling particularly warm and fuzzy toward the industry, and certainly much less warm and fuzzy than President Obama is feeling.

Karen Pollitz, a research professor at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute and a former health official in the Clinton administration, said insurers were similarly gung-ho when universal coverage once again became a going concern in the 1990s.

"They said they wanted to be at the table and wanted to deal," she recalled. "Then they all left. They saw that they could kill it." ...

In fact, it's hard to see how things are different this time around. Once again we have a Democratic administration committed to upending our woefully dysfunctional healthcare system.

And once again the healthcare industry is presenting itself as a willing and enthusiastic agent of change.

Why should anyone believe that the outcome will be any different now from what happened 15 years ago?

"Everything's different this time," answered Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, a leading industry group. "Everybody learned valuable lessons from 15 years ago." ...

But when I asked Zirkelbach about the $2 trillion in cost reductions that the healthcare industry says it can come up with over 10 years, he said the details were still being hammered out.

As for Obama's proposal for a public plan to compete with private ones and keep costs down, Zirkelbach said, "We have significant concerns about that, absolutely."

And he wasn't very committed to the insurers' recent claim that they'll stop denying coverage to sick people or those with preexisting conditions. Zirkelbach said this would be contingent on lawmakers approving a national mandate for health insurance -- in other words, a requirement that everyone has to buy the industry's products.

Are those changes still possible without a mandate?

"Probably not," Zirkelbach replied.

I think it's clear that the health insurers have absolutely no interest in trimming costs to consumers. They are, after all, for-profit organizations, so why should they? They are at the table, once again, to make certain that nothing so radical as a public plan gets slipped in. They know they can't compete with such a plan and still make the huge profits off the sick and injured. Just as soon as they've maneuvered Congress into taking the public plan off the table, they'll disappear. Again.

And unless we bring enormous pressure to bear on our elected representatives, we can kiss real healthcare reform good-by. Again.

[Note: There's a poll contained in the side-bar to the Lazarus article on how much we can trust the health insurance industry. Do an old lady a favor and go freep it.]

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Blogger Libby Spencer said...

The scam goes all the way back to Nixon when they invented the HMOs. I had a great quote I dug up once. Can't remember where I posted it. But it essentially said Nixon was against health reform until they discovered they could scam the people with this fake reform called managed care.

Oh and thanks for the link below.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Just voted in the poll. Currently 93.3 don't trust the insurance co.

9:19 AM  
Blogger montag said...

Just as easy as a vote in the poll is an e-mail to your Congress critter in favor of a public plan that the insurance companies are so afraid of. It costs nothing to send them an e-mail a day and the critters are impressed by big enough numbers.

2:51 PM  
Blogger scormeny said...

Thanks for pointing this article out and for your take on it!

I'm the webmaster for Karen Pollitz's consumer information website, She has just posted a couple of new studies on health care costs that point out how hard it is for consumers to figure out what their insurance will cover for a given illness or procedure until after the fact, and urging more transparency by insurers and hospitals on costs. Visit the site and you can download the studies for free, as well as a consumer guide for getting health insurance where you live, if you've lost it for some reason (lost a job, divorce, etc.).

Karen Pollitz is a Georgetown University researcher and her work (and that of her team) is top-notch!

Thanks again for the LA Times link.

6:59 AM  

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