Local view: Affordable Care Act begins to end industry’s iron grip on health careAs an emergency-room physician working locally for the last 25 years, I disagreed with David Zbaracki’s July 5 Local View column, “Survival of health-care reform still uncertain.”
By: Dr. Scott Wolff, for the News Tribune
As an emergency-room physician working locally for the last 25 years, I disagreed with David Zbaracki’s July 5 Local View column, “Survival of health-care reform still uncertain.”
I support the Affordable Care Act.
Our health-care system not only is imperfect, it is broken. Zbaracki’s assertion that health care in the U.S. is the “finest in the world” can be debated; that it is the most expensive is unarguable. The reasons for our broken and expensive “system” are complex. I personally am aware of many cases in which people suffered personal and financial disaster — even death — because they lacked health-care coverage. Their only failure was not being born to privilege.
Zbaracki’s allegation that encouraging competition in the health-insurance field would reduce costs is false. The past 42 years of escalating premiums in spite of competition is evidence enough to dispute such a claim. Had the proposed public option in the initial draft of the Affordable Care Act survived Republican and corporate objections, we would have seen meaningful competition.
Health care does not follow conventional supply-and-demand economics, as health-policy expert Shannon Brownlee outlined in her book, “Overtreated.” Drug shortages are an increasing problem. Drug companies develop new and very expensive drugs and quit making older, effective, but less-profitable medications that we rely on in the ER. For private insurers, administrative overhead is significant, accounting for about 35 percent of costs compared to 2 percent to 3 percent afforded by the VA and Medicare.
Any for-profit company’s primary purpose is to make a profit, but in health care this is in direct opposition to providing cost-
effective care and breeds conflict of interest. Senior executives at UnitedHealth Group — the largest, private insurance company in America — provide an excellent example. They have been holding a monthly meeting with other major insurers’ executives to limit the effects of health-care reform to their own profit margins, according to Wikipedia. In 2006, the former CEO of UHG, William McGuire, made $1.1 billion on a severance package. It was estimated that $1 of every $700 spent on UHG group premiums went to him.
When we really consider the issues it becomes clear that instead of a health-care system what we actually have is a health-care industry. Industry was never designed to care for and heal people. By adulterating health care for profiteering, we place industrial and corporate needs over those of individuals — the “we” in our original declaration. “We” the people deserve better than a health-care industry.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider also that we are limiting American firms’ ability to compete globally by forcing them into employer-based private insurance.
It is a national embarrassment that the United States is the only major industrialized country that fails to provide health coverage for all. The Affordable Care Act is the best option we have. There are parts of it to which I object, but we need to move forward. In fact, I staunchly believe we need it to go further than it does.
Health care is an American crisis and needs to rise above partisan politics. Our elected officials must do what is right for the American people. I support the Affordable Care Act and credit President Obama for his courage in moving it forward.
But whether reform comes from a Democrat or a Republican plan doesn’t really matter as long as it works for Americans. Partisan politics and congressional obstruction literally are killing us. Vague proposals to resolve our broken system through tax incentives or a voucher system is akin to Dorothy clicking her heels and saying, “There’s no place like home.” That worked in the Land of Oz, but we aren’t in Oz anymore.
Dr. Scott Wolff is an emergency-room physician in Duluth.