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Swallow This

September 17, 2009


The belief, “It’s not my money,” is the basic problem with health insurance. You get what you pay for but if you don’t feel you’re paying and someone else is footing the bill, whether it’s Aetna or Medicare or Blue Cross or the U.S. Government, you don’t care.


On August 11th, John Mackey wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people’s money. These deficits are simply not sustainable. They are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation, or they will bankrupt us.” (“The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare: Eight things we can do to improve health care without adding to the deficit.” The Wall Street Journal, John Mackey, August 11, 2009)

            When I read the editorial, I was happy that someone finally talked common sense about improving health care. While I was pleased, a lot of other people were ticked.  I didn’t imagine that a CEO who is considered one of the best employers in the country would unleash such a backlash.

            Russell Mokhiber of shot back two days later, “Single Payer Action is calling on all American citizens to boycott Whole Foods. Why? Because Mackey has launched a public campaign to defeat single payer national health insurance. This despite the bottom line reality that single payer is the only way to both control health care costs and cover everyone.”

            The eight things that Mackey suggested were removing legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs), equalizing tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned insurance have the same tax benefits, repealing state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines, repealing government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover, enacting tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, making costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost, enacting Medicare reform before it goes bankrupt, and revising tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

            Mackey’s suggestions on ways to improve what we already have make sense to me. Yet, many who envy Canada’s health system in which everyone gets “free” health insurance want so much more than what we have. But do supporters of “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009” really believe that the President, Congressmen, and their staffs know everything? Should we just open up our mouths and swallow their “affordable health choices” medicine like a trusting patient, like a baby taking food from her mother? Do we want government to control most every part of our lives?

As Bob Bauman from the Sovereign Society writes, “One year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers set off a series of massive Bush-Obama federal interventions in the U.S. economy, the U.S. government under President Barack Obama is now the nation’s largest lender, insurer, automaker and guarantor against risk for investors large and small.” Government spending accounts for more of our economy than at any time since World War II. It finances 9 out of 10 mortgages, owns most of GM and 80% of the biggest insurer in the world. It has bought more than $700 billion of mortgage-backed securities so far. “When you add up the roughly $11 trillion of federal debt,” writes CPA Vern Jacobs (“International Wealth Monitor,” Sept. 15, 2009), “the disputed shortfall in Social Security of as much as $13 trillion, an even larger projected deficit of almost $30 trillion for Medicare and various additional unfunded federal obligations, the total estimates of total federal obligations range from $65 trillion to $100+trillion.” Add more debt from more government-paid health insurance and the only word to describe all of this is “staggering.”

I am not one of those people claiming that we have the world’s best health system. As president and part owner of a small business, I despise being forced to make the tough choices of insurance for a small business. I have envied my Canadian counterpart in Toronto for years because he doesn’t have to insure his employees; the government does. He doesn’t have to choose from costly health insurance plans, deciding on whether to pay 15 or 20% more every year just to get the same coverage. He doesn’t need to get involved and take the heat for choosing one plan over another.

Health care costs in the United States have been out of control for years. But do I trust Congress to reduce costs and make our bloated, inefficient, and sometimes high-quality health system better and less costly? Do pigs fly? Is the federal deficit going down? Answer yes to either and you can be assured that the health care legislation that you will swallow will taste like delicious cough syrup. Answer no and it will be like swallowing a gallon of the Go Lightly concoction I had to swallow on Labor Day in prepping for my colonoscopy. It took four hours of sipping 10 ounces every twenty minutes until I floated in and out of the bathroom, sickened by the nauseating drink and its ugly aftermath.

The next day was easy. I went to Henry Ford Hospital and was put to sleep on some strong anesthetics and woke an hour later with the good news that the polyps the last gastro doctor found three years ago were gone. How much did the procedure cost? How should I know? Although I haven’t met my $2000 deductible on my Aetna health insurance yet, I wasn’t too worried. It’s not my money, I thought.

The belief, “It’s not my money,” is the basic problem with health insurance. You get what you pay for but if you don’t feel you’re paying and someone else is footing the bill, whether it’s Aetna or Medicare or Blue Cross or the U.S. government, you don’t care.

Now add millions of American citizens (and arguably, non-citizens) who will now get “free” health insurance sponsored by you-know-who, the U.S. taxpayer, and I can guarantee you many more years of health cost inflation five times the rate of overall inflation, the way it has been for the last two decades. Although I didn’t like Congressman Joe Wilson yelling, “You Lie!” at the President after he said that no illegal aliens will be covered, I thought the same exact thing when Obama said, “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits either now or in the future. Period.”

The heartbeat goes on and much of society accepts it, hoping that they will get more goodies from the government. People who don’t have insurance might get lucky and get something they didn’t have before. People with pre-existing medical conditions might not get shut out after all, but who knows for sure? Many people who now have health insurance are scared of what they might wind up with from their employers or from Congress.

Health care in the United States is such a complicated fiscal monster that is so screwed up. You have to ask yourself: How is our current Congress, the one that has an incredibly low approval rating, going to fix it? This is not Canada or Great Britain that has had shared health care for years and has kept the free market down, doctor’s salaries far below American doctors, and kept the medical inflation rate low. On the other hand, the reported waits for desired health care services are often far longer than ours in the United States.

It might take a legitimate consortium of conservatives, moderates, and liberals, doctors, health insurance directors, business owners, Congress, and even attorneys to get together and figure out the ten best ways to make our health care system more affordable, able to insure people who need and want it, while keeping people from going bankrupt after paying their medical bills.

Many of our elected representatives don’t seem to care how we’re going to pay for all the debts we have. They act like it’s still the good-old-days, when the United States was rich. But now, we are basically broke and spending someone else’s money faster than ever, drowning in debt and still wanting to make sure that everyone gets the ultimate in health care at all times.

This should be the motto of our Congress: “Swallow this but don’t call us in the morning. You can have all the health insurance you want for no extra cost. Hey, if birds can fly, why can’t pigs? If pigs can fly, why can’t we?”

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