Hawking Up Hairballs

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Health Summit

Obama is holding a health-care summit, so drop your drawers, bend over, and grab your ankles, but it won't be a procotologist who's coming up behind you. (I'm getting a colonoscopy tomorrow and I haven't had one before, so anal insertion is on my mind.) It'll be the insurance industry, gearing up to give you a ream job. Never mind that the majority of the public would like to see a government-run, single-payer health system with universal coverage. Never mind that it works well for Medicare and for our neighbors to the north. It ain't gonna happen, because the likes of the folks who brought us AIG are going to see to it.

Obama has spoken favorably of the Massachusetts health-care system, and that's apparently the best that we can hope for, though a recent Boston Globe editorial piece called it a failure. Here's how it works. Everyone is required by law to have health insurance. If your annual income is up to 150% of the poverty line, your premiums are fully subsidized. If your income is up to 300% of the poverty line, the premiums are partially funded on a sliding scale. Employers are required to insure a certain percentage of their employees. If you are unemployed or aren't covered by your employer, you must purchase insurance through a Massachusetts state agency. Failure to do so could result in fines of up to $912 annually.

There are lots of things wrong with such a system. In the first place, what it amounts to is a regressive, private tax on the public, the proceeds of which go to the insurance industry. Secondly, when you have sliding scales, with segments of the public paying the full premium while others are only required to pay a portion of it, you end up with a massive bureaucracy to handle the health-care system. Thirdly, the coverage is not necessarily all that good. With $30 co-payments for office visits, those with chronic conditions can find their costs mounting, and that's not the worst of it. As the Boston Globe editorial pointed out, someone with an annual income of $31,213 could end up paying $9,872 in premiums.

Think Obama will come up with something better? Think again. As I said, he's has publicly praised the Massachusetts system, and I think it's instructive that he's chosen Kathleen Sebelius as his secretary of Health and Human Services. Prior to her stint as governor of Kansas, she was its insurance commissioner.


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