A Simple Solution for Today's Health Care
Painful as it may be for us Nutmeggers to admit, some human activities really are best conducted by government. That simple reality goes against American conventional wisdom, especially in fiercely capitalistic Connecticut. On reflection, though, it's comforting even for us not to have to shop around for a police or fire company when emergency strikes, or to thumb through the yellow pages for a road crew or a mailman.
But what about health insurance? Every other modern nation has chosen to treat it more like police and fire services. We have too, for those blessed folks over 65. But other than for them, we've decided to leave health care funding to the cheerful plunderers in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. No other nation does that, and we pay plenty for the privilege.
First of all is the dollar cost we pay. We spend far more than anyone else per capita on health. Indeed, our expense rate is 47 percent higher than Switzerland's, the next most expensive place.
The reasons are no mystery. Take, for example, Medicare: Its administrative costs run about 2 percent of expenditures. Compare that to HMOs' administrative costs, which run 15 percent. And the most galling part is that much of that waste goes into excessive salaries and perks for top executives. They take home millions from our premiums. Connecticut's own Oxford and CIGNA have been prime examples.
The second major downside of our survival-of-the-fittest health care system is all those folks who aren't covered at all, around 12 percent. Connecticut's share of those who aren't covered is 400,000 souls, up from 365,000 just two years ago. Many of these get treated in emergency rooms when their conditions finally reach a crisis point, but often this is too late to avoid permanent damage. That's a great cost to society. And ultimately, the most expensive to us all are the pregnancies that go without pre-natal care.
Adding to our health care mess are the pharmaceutical companies. On average, they mark up their drugs 45 percent higher here than in Canada. One of the worst offenders is New London's Pfizer, which recently forced a major Canadian pharmacy to stop serving Americans. Otherwise, the pharmacy would have been cut off from obtaining Pfizer products.
To grasp how this perverse system can sustain itself, you must understand that Pfizer is the biggest contributor to local Congressman Rob Simmons' campaign fund. That sort of influence goes on all over the country. And just to be on the safe side, the drug companies hire more lobbyists in Washington than there are congressmen and senators combined.
Only the mentally challenged still don't see that this whole scheme is costing us a bundle. It strains public and private budgets alike, and is ruining a lot of people's health. Many better systems exist in other nations, Canada being the nearest.
A serious reform plan here would, first, abolish private health insurance with all its abuses. Medicare would then be expanded to apply to everyone. Employers, instead of paying premiums to insurers, would contribute a share of payroll to Medicare. This would additionally capture all those employees of bosses who now offer no coverage at all. Workers, in turn, would pay in a share of their wages, salaries, dividends, and capital gains, but would no longer have to pay insurance premiums. As today, regular taxes would make up any shortfall.
Such a system would allow Medicare to bargain with drug companies for reasonable prices, bring veterans into the common care system, and provide coverage for everyone. This action would add the United States to the world's list of civilized nations. Unfortunately, much of the current lobbying and campaign money to oppose such a practical solution comes from right here in our own hallowed state.