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Archive for June, 2009

If you were a multimillionaire, or maybe a billionaire, would you buy health insurance?  Probably not, because you would be able to pay the costs for any illness you might have in the future and, if you look at the mathematical probabilities, you would know that most likely you won’t ever suffer from a very expensive illness.  In the long run, you would know that it is always less expensive to insure yourself – if you can afford the risk. For the same reason, you probably wouldn’t buy homeowners insurance, auto insurance or any other insurance because ultimately insurance is nothing more than placing a bet with a bookmaker. You bet something bad is going to happen to you and the bookmaker (the insurance company) bets that it won’t. The reason why most people buy insurance is to protect themselves from catastrophic loss.  The reason the bookmakers are willing to take that bet is that 1) they know the odds of a catastrophe are slim and 2) they calculate the financial effect of the occasional catastrophe and they include that cost in your, and everyone else’s premiums.  In other words, the bookmaker can’t lose, and you are still going to pay.

Which brings us to the current national debate on what to do about health insurance system (betting on one’s future health) in the U.S.  It might be instructive to take a drive through any of America’s larger cities and note the largest, tallest buildings.  Chances are you’ll find that several of them belong to big insurance companies.  That’s because insurance companies make a lot of money taking bets from people who are afraid they can’t afford a catastrophic illness or fire or flood or whatever.  Even the not-for-profit medical insurance companies have really nice buildings too, don’t they?  I wonder how they manage to do that when they don’t make a profit?

Today, the debate about some sort of national health insurance plan is beginning again. Not unexpectedly, the Republican Party, the champions of big banks, big business, big insurance, big profits, and big private fortunes, is aghast at the idea of any government sort of insurance, especially one that would compete with the existing medical bookmakers.  Despite the fact the much of the western world has some type of government health care or insurance and that many of these health care programs are far superior to the U.S. system, the Republican Party is adamantly opposed to an American health care system of any sort.  They claim that we already have the best health care in the world, but neglect to say you can only get the ultimate, top of the line health care, if you are very wealthy and can pay for it yourself because it is almost a certainty that your insurance company is not going to pay for you to go across the country to the best heart or cancer clinic in the world. You will have to make due with the center that is part of your plan.  It is only the ultra rich (the ones who ensure themselves) who really can make use of the “best health care system in the world”.  Of course that’s how it works – does anyone really believe that our insurance companies could make any money if they let everyone go to the very best, highest priced doctors and get the very best possible treatment? The idea that the average American gets better health care than most Europeans or Canadians is simply false – and the health statistics show it. The average life expectancy in Canada and Sweden is over 80 years; in Singapore it is over 81 and the UK is over 78 years.  The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 77.8.  We are not even in the top ten countries, and, to put it in perspective, we are just ahead of Mexico.  So much for the “best health care in the world”.

So, as the great medical insurance debate shapes up in the U.S. it is worth remembering that this debate isn’t about health care at all – it’s about money. It’s about the vast amounts of money that insurance companies (the medical bookmakers) can make by taking your bet that  you will have a catastrophic illness or at least an illness that you can’t afford.  The time has come to get the bookmakers out of the health business and send them to Las Vegas where they belong.  Government operated, truly non-profit, health care systems work better than the U.S. health care system in most countries of the civilized world – despite Republican propaganda to the contrary. The question we should be asking is not “are going to implement such a system here”, the question we should be asking is “exactly how do we implement such a system and when?”

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