Saturday, December 12, 2009

Weekend health care reads

Is opening Medicare to those 55 and up, as in one Senate proposal, a first step to Medicare for all? No, says Physicians for a National Health Plan founders Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, as part of a "Room for Debate" blog posted to the New York Times on Friday.

"Milk and lemon both taste good in tea. But mix them together and it’s a curdled mess. Similarly, the latest Senate health reform compromise combines two appetizing elements — a Medicare expansion and tighter insurance regulations –- to create a noxious brew," they write. Combine our tax dollars with a for-profit system that's consistently failed to deliver equitable care at anything approaching reasonable cost, and you get undigestible public policy. The 55+ Medicare policy simply siphons the older, sicker patients out of the mandated private insurance system, leaving younger, healthier people to generate private profit--a "hidden subsidy" for insurers.

"In the end," they write, "the Senate compromise, like its House counterpart, will do little to salvage the sinking U.S. health system. Costs will continue to skyrocket... driving the costs of taxpayer-funded subsidies through the roof. In contrast, a single payer system could save nearly $400 billion annually on health insurers’ overhead and the paperwork they inflict on doctors and hospitals -– savings that would make universal coverage affordable.

"Medicare for All won’t grow from the Senate compromise, but from its ashes."

Meanwhile, Donna Smith of the California Nurses Assocation and PDA's Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, notes that the Senate bill now allows insurance companies to cap payments for some catastrophic illnesses. The bill, said the AP, was "tweaked," leading Smith to comment: "No official or legal amendment required when the insurance industry needs a tweak they damn well get a tweak. And this is quite a tweak...Just hours ago, I continued to read reports that claimed our healthcare reformers in Congress were doing away with pre-existing condition clauses and also ending lifetime caps on coverage."

The fix starts, she says, when we "tweak back" in 2010 and 2012.

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