Public option the logical way to fix health care

Posted Sept. 09, 2009, at 6:41 p.m.

Josh Tardy, a lawyer and Republican minority leader in the House, recently wrote it was time to bring sanity to the health care debate, (BDN, Aug. 29). He then proceeded to bring misinformation. His pokes at what he terms ObamaCare (is this the conservatives’ new loaded pejorative?) reminded me of Spiro Agnew’s term “nattering nabobs of negativity” as hurled about back in the ’70s. Having killed so-called “HillaryCare” back in the early ’90s, the conservatives once again protest with a lot of negatives but few positives. In the meantime, over 16 years have passed and, please note, the conservatives have done nothing to alleviate the structural issues with our national health care system.

Tardy posits (by misrepresentation) what he sees as the negatives of the plan now in Congress. He points out the “budget-busting” excess $1.6 trillion dollar 10-year cost, then in nearly the same breath posits there will be major negative economic consequences in the County, in the Second District, and, we are to assume, throughout the American economy all from falling health care revenues. Is he really proposing that medical expenses should be even higher than they already are? That they should accelerate even faster than they already do?

Next he describes the conservative alternative, with its mantra of tax credits (no mention of how they’re paid for). It “encourages” states to take various actions; it drops the ranks of the uninsured by 7 million (no mention of the other 40 million) by “allowing” youngsters to stay on family policies; it “helps” small businesses in various indeterminate ways; and finally, that old standby, it “cracks down” on waste and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid which, incidentally, are run far more efficiently than the private insurance programs. What Tardy has described has nary a mandate or an elemental restructuring anywhere in it. Wishful thinking does not avert the disaster that all responsible commentators agree is where we’re headed.

As a fellow lawyer, and small business owner, I’m hit hard by health insurance costs — to the tune of $10,000 a year for a $10,000 deductible policy for my own family. What that means is we pay upwards of $20,000 before the insurance company starts to pay anything meaningful. And my family consists of four very healthy people — no congenital issues; no cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, COPD, ADHD, etc. Nothing. And, based on my informal queries of friends and clients, including bankruptcy clients, throughout the middle- and low-income sectors, my situation is not unusual at all.

Conservatives speak of rationing. How about the endemic self-rationing that takes place when people with high deductible policies such as mine don’t follow up on annual exams, or colonoscopies or any number of other necessary preventive procedures because they either can’t, or just as likely, choose not to afford them? Speaking to my own doctor and her physician-husband (both nonspecialist family practitioners) a while back, it seems they’re in the same boat. How is it that many people in this country eagerly anticipate getting to age 65 so they are finally eligible for Medicare and can shed all the cost and other issues that go along with private insurance? Doesn’t that seem sad — to be eager to get older?

Not only in this country (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid) and in Canada, but overseas throughout Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, government-run health programs have run well. And the very existence of their health programs as a government function, and not as part of the business economy, has relieved business of a very significant cost factor affecting manufacturing costs and competitiveness to export.

As a lifelong Republican myself, I absolutely endorse the so-called public option, not for the fact it is “subsidized” by taxpayers, or is operated by the government, but because, let’s be straight-up about this, it is “paid for” through taxation — just as myriad other proper government functions such as schools and roads are paid for by taxes. The $1.6 trillion “excess” cost over 10 years which Rep. Tardy highlights amounts to about $600 per person per year — $2,400 additional tax per year for my family of four to get real health care while I’ll save at least $10,000 and up to $20,000 in any given year. Even rounding my additional tax contribution up to $3,000 to help cover the uninsured would be a bargain. Let’s do ourselves a favor and just pay it.

Ernie Hilton of Starks is an attorney and engineer.

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