Know The Facts on Health Care Reform

It’s no coincidence seven of the top 20 search terms on Google in the past hour relate to the health care reform bill passed last night by the U.S. Congress. Plenty of Americans have feelings about the bill’s passing, but in reality, few understand what it means for them.

Already, there’s a wave of opposition that threatens a single-term presidency for Barack Obama, but it seems silly his efficacy as our leader would be judged on this one bill which won’t entirely take hold until 2014 — two years after the next presidential election.

Here’s what I mean to say: People want to be really, really passionate about health care reform without taking the time to know what it means. Health, I realize, is a very personal issue, but reform can only be looked at through a broader lens. This will provide 32 million previously uninsured Americans with coverage. This means children will no longer be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions. This means college graduates entering the worst job market in decades could still have coverage under their parents’ plan. This means cheaper prescription drugs for Americans.

Stop me if all of these things sound too good. I’d hate to sway your opinion. Besides, it’s my opinion that legislation is never as good as we want it to be or as bad as we fear it might be.

I’m avoiding the soap box today and encouraging each of you to read up on the health care reform bill. This is arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation in a generation and you won’t go long today without hearing a heated debate about it. It’s important you know the facts, and these come from the most unbiased sources I could think of:

From NPR: What Are The Immediate Effects Of Health Bill Passing?

From BBC: Q&A: US healthcare reform

From Toronto Globe and Mail: Obama staked it all on health care — now he’s assured of his legacy

NOTE: If you’ve read any interesting articles from other unbiased sources, please send them this way.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve observed plenty of unrequited adulation and vitriol on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve even been hooked into a few exchanges. This is just one of those topics where passions run high, sometimes without justification, often without constructive dialogue. It seems most of my friends and colleagues working or planning on working in the health sector are virulently opposed to reform. Those of my friends who support seem to be, well, Democrats.

You know I love all of you, but if you’re going to be so embolden to posture an opinion, please be so kind (to yourself and others) to make that opinion an informed one. Anyone can yell. Anyone can come up with a dozen clever ways of saying “I disagree, here’s why you’re wrong.”

All I mean to say, really, is be sure of why it is you support or oppose this bill. I dare you to step away from the partisan implications and come away with an opinion that’s not informed by your voting record alone.

Reform, For The Health Of It

It’s been health care overkill here at TMT lately. I’ve been purposely side-stepping only the most controversial political debate/stalemate of the Obama administration — health care reform — because it’s a vast, layered issue, and frankly, I don’t know enough to pose an informed stance.

Uncle Mark does.

Parts of yesterday’s post were stuck in his craw, namely the part where I insinuated my physical exam was “free” under my health insurance. I’ve since changed that statement. My physical exam was covered under my plan, and by “free,” I meant there was no copayment. My provider, Aetna, still receives over $300 per month from my employer for the group insurance I’ve bought into. That’s not free at all. Good looking out, Mark.

OK, here goes nothing: I refuse to look at health care as a political view, but something that should be available to all of us, just like policemen, firefighters, postal workers and libraries. However, I realize health care is much more expensive than all of these services, and this idea that every American could ever receive free health care is downright preposterous. There are real costs involved with hiring doctors, supplying and operating hospitals, researching cures and treatments and so on. Just scratch that idea from your mind — never going to happen.

I  have literally no idea what the U.S. Congress has come up with or what’s going to change if and when a bill passes. I know these are a few items I would like to see:

  1. More incentives. Lower costs for individuals who are independently pursuing a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise. These people are making an effort to lower their health care costs. Reward them.
  2. Make gym class mandatory. I believe K-12 students should be required to take at least 2-3 hours of gym class per week. Many schools are cutting back on gym classes under tight budgets, but we’ll never win the war on child obesity if we can’t teach the importance of exercise at a young age.
  3. Allow parental coverage until 27. College students are paying more than ever to enter a bleak job market. I can tell you personally the first thing young adults pass up is health coverage, simply because it’s not in budget. Allow young adults to remain on their parents’ plan to avoid that dangerous 4-5 year window after college where all-too-many don’t have coverage.

Now, Uncle Mark doesn’t write an e-mail just to tell me I’m wrong or I should correct something. Clearly, he knows much more about this issue and he’s given it more thought. He had some questions:

“Health insurance companies rely on healthy people paying their premiums so that the insurance companies can pay for unhealthy people.  If everyone is required to buy health insurance and the insurance companies are required to insure everyone, will the healthy people be able to support all of the unhealthy people?”

Anyone got a calculator? Uncle Mark’s question raises another question: If American were to radically become more healthy and would lower medical expenses as a result, would insurance companies actually lower costs to meet the lowered demand, or would they continue on and profit from their ridiculously good fortune?

“Given #1 above, if healthy people, like 20+ year olds, are required to buy insurance, won’t those people want to “use” what they are paying for and go to the doctor more than they are now?  And won’t this decrease the amount of money insurance companies have to pay for unhealthy people that the insurance companies are now required to cover?”

If that’s the case, the system is broken. I guess some of the higher-ups would have to settle for six-digit bonuses next Christmas. Interesting point, nonetheless. Any math majors out there?

“Does preventative care really cost less?  Preventative care always sounds good until someone is having to pay for examinations and procedures that produce negative results.  It is the same way with your car.  No one wants to buy new tires, or change the timing belt because they “might be going bad.”  Particularly if someone besides the owner is paying for those things.”

This one really speaks to me. The difference is we’re not talking about tires or timing belts, but our lives. If there’s one area in your life to be cautious, it’s here. I’ll go with the metaphor, though. I look at a preventative care more like getting an oil change — it’s about being proactive rather than waiting for something more costly to go wrong.

“Would universal health care be better?  The country is broke.  Why would a doctor want to be a doctor if he gets paid like a plumber and has all of his school loans to pay for to boot?”

This is where the rubber meets the road. I don’t know if universal health care would be better. The country is broke. But, I hope money isn’t the single largest motivator for future doctors. I would hope the service, the honorable work, was the motivating factor, as with policemen, who are proud to protect. That’s not operating in reality, though.

This is the issue of the year and maybe next year, too, at this rate. Uncle Mark and I see things a little different, but I think we both agree the current system as well as every proposed model of a future system seems fatally flawed one way or another. There may be no perfect system, I hate to say.

What are your thoughts? What’s been your experience with health care? What would you like to see change or stay the same?