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Ask the Expert

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Health of the nation

Posted: November 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

The political tumult and recent media craziness surrounding the rocky start to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act ignore this reality: We already have “universal” healthcare in this country.

Programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Aid to Needy Aged, Blind, or Disabled Persons are funded at about 15 percent of the budget.

State programs, like Medical, kick in trillions more nationwide.

We already pay through the nose for medical support; why not regulate it?  

Congress passed The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act in 1986, which requires hospitals to provide emergency healthcare treatment regardless of one’s legal status, or ability to pay.

This act preserves the right to life and the medical care necessary to stay alive, even for those without the financial means to pay. Of course, some Republicans, so eager to protect the lives of the unborn, don’t want to allocate resources to the underclass who would die without taxpayer aid.

In the meanwhile, hospitals and medical insurance carriers are gouging patients whenever and wherever possible. HMOs issued an estimated 1 million policy cancellation notices in California in just the last month, only to offer weaker substitute plans for as much as triple the cost.   

My neighbor a few years ago was bitten by a baby rattler he stepped on while walking barefoot one hot summer night in his garage. The hospital bill for a few days of care and anti-venom was almost $1 million.

When my neighbor reminded the hospital he had insurance, the whole bill was cut by 90 percent and his part was but a few thousand.  

Hospitals know that when a medical emergency arises, you don’t have time to shop for the most affordable rates.

Hospitals also know there is no standard rate for emergency treatment and they can issue a bill in any amount.

Even the rates for standard care are crazy. I had to rent a surgical room for 30 minutes for oral surgery two years ago. Even though I brought in my own medical team, the cheapest rate I could find was $15,000.

That’s $500 a minute. Some hospital wanted $40,000 for 30 minutes.

While some of these out-of-control costs supplement those who can pay no money and have no health plan, the monopolistic approach the health care industry has adopted is the real culprit.    

There are really only three issues that matter regarding making health care affordable:

  • n Health care services are already provided in some form to anyone in the U.S., and we are already paying for it;
  • n Hospitals, HMOs, PPOs, and insurance carriers have unilaterally taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act using this opportunity to raise rates, cut benefits, and cancel policies;
  • n Republicans wish to preserve this “free market” free-for-all without government constraint or regulation, all the while falsely blaming Obamacare as the culprit.

The Republicans have from the beginning pushed hard against reform of any kind, hoping to preserve the medical monopoly that has America by the throat.

In July on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” House Speaker John Boehner said: “Obamacare is bad for America. ... We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that it never happens.”

Fox News commentator Dr. Ben Carson recently “reported” that “Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to America since slavery.”

The problem is that our “free market exchanges” allow medical providers to charge whatever they wish. Rather than dropping the rates of medical insurance, they all elected to inflate prices as much as possible.

The reasons Obamacare is faltering are because our government has too little control over these mandated services. Medical treatment is a monopoly — and all the big hospitals and HMOs have selected rates that are astronomical over affordable.  

Government needs the power to step in to control this chaos. We need to restrict the arbitrary and inflated medical fee approach.

We need to regulate medical care like the public utility that it is. We need to clip the wings of this “free market” or face ails similar to those of the Great Recession that were caused by deregulation and allowing unbridled greed on Wall Street.

Jonathan Kraut serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV, on the SCV Human Relations Forum and SCV Interfaith Council. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or other organizations. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among local Democratic writers.
 

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