Sometimes (well, often, actually) this country puzzles me. This time it’s healthcare. The notion of a single-payer healthcare system in which everyone would be covered is meeting a lot of resistance. Now, it’s not surprising that the medical insurance and pharmaceutical industries are hitting hard with the usual scare tactics: the government will control your access to healthcare, there will be long waits, you won’t be able to choose your doctor, it’ll be too expensive, and the killer: it’s socialism! It is surprising that so many people believe this nonsense that comes from the only groups that benefit from the current inefficient and expensive system.

First, a reality check. We already have a government run system called Medicare. Last I checked, Medicare does not restrict which doctor you see (providing they are licensed), nor does the use of Medicare increase wait times. The main problem with Medicare coverage is that there are doctors and clinics that don’t take Medicare patients because the reimbursement rate is pretty low at this time. Regarding restrictions, it’s the HMOs and insurance plans that normally restrict you to a certain clinic and hospital. Medicare coverage does not depend on whether or not you are employed or wealthy enough to buy private health insurance or pay your health costs out of pocket. Under private insurance it’s true that the government is not making healthcare decisions about you. Rather, the private insurance company is and they have absolutely no interest in your well being but rather in their profitability. They don’t get rich by paying claims but by paying as little as they can get by with.

So why are we so easily scared of a government run universal plan but not scared of putting our healthcare in the hands of profit-making companies that have no interest in our well being but rather are interested in their bottom line? Many still tout the benefits of “free market” solutions to all our ills, ignoring a continuous stream of evidence that when greed is the main motivator, bad things happen (Enron, Worldcom, Arthur Anderson, KPMG, AGI, the wall street financial institutions, banks, Haliburton, Blackwater and on and on). When I was in business school the only ethic considered legitimate for corporations was to maximize shareholder wealth. Now even that minimal standard is ignored as top executives seem to be mainly about maximizing their own wealth even at the expense of the company’s health. There is absolutely no reason to feel comfortable putting our trust in health insurance companies and pharmaceuticals.

It’s as if we’re saying, “Universal coverage whether or not I have a job or can afford private insurance? No way! We’d rather live with the excitement of not knowing if I’ll be covered because of layoffs, health crisis, or some other personal downturn. What’s life without anxiety and lost sleep worrying about how we’ll take care of our family’s healthcare needs?” It makes no sense to me at all.

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