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Steve Lunetta: Health care conundrums

Posted: July 26, 2009 9:23 p.m.
Updated: July 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

I am torn. Like a liberal driving a Mercedes, the promise of universal health care both excites and frightens me.

I have heard the claims and counter-claims about President Obama's proposed health care plan from both sides of the aisle.

Commentators and experts have weighed in to share their wisdom with us.

Obama's plan calls for extension of benefits to uninsured Americans, creation of a federal private insurance regulatory agency, and forcing medium and large employers to subsidize the plan for smaller employers.

The Lewin Group estimates the plan will actually save about $571 billion between 2010-2019.

However, the Congressional Budget Office has seriously questioned the assumptions that support the savings calculations.

Even assuming the rosy estimates are true, and factoring in a cost of about $1.2-1.6 trillion for the federal government over this same period, one must be rightly concerned as to where the additional funds will come from.

Look in the mirror.

During the presidential campaign, Obama claimed the average family would save about $2,500. The Lewin Group now pegs that number at $426.

As many as 15 percent or 46 million Americans do not have health insurance.

The CBO estimates the plan would reduce this number by 23 million in 2013 and 37 million by 2019. In 10 years, only 3 percent of Americans would lack health insurance.

But isn't the United States big and powerful enough to ensure all Americans have minimal health care?

If po-dunky little countries like Finland or Netherlands can provide free care to their people, why can't we?

Why don't we provide cancer screening and free immunizations for all Americans?

Such a simple thing could prevent millions in future expenses and increase the quality of life for all Americans.

According to the White House, health insurance premiums have doubled in the last eight years, rising 3.7 times faster than real wages.

Half of all personal bankruptcies are due in some part to medical expenses.

By all measures, health care spending is out of control and projected to double again in the next decade.

My family's health problems have been adequately addressed by our current system. However, I pay through the nose even with good insurance.

Large insurance companies approve and deny procedures and treatments depending on cost and other factors.

How would this be different from a large federal bureaucracy deciding who gets treatment and who doesn't?

Aren't we a bit to blame for this mess? Health care costs have skyrocketed, in part, due to a legal system that allows the awarding of huge sums of money for medical malpractice.

Trial lawyers have convinced us that a large sum of cash is the only adequate compensation for pain or suffering caused by our health care providers.

Haven't we demanded better drugs and treatments? Twenty years ago, the x-ray was the standard method for looking inside the body.

The MRI was an expensive side-option that was rarely prescribed. Today, the MRI is used, it seems, for even the most minor of maladies.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to develop new and better drugs. Of course, this research is expensive. Don't like paying $120 for that bottle of pills?

Remember, you are helping to finance the next generation of wonder drugs.

If you don't want to pay that huge bill, be satisfied with aspirin and Alka-Seltzer. In the end, it's your choice.

On the other hand, do we trust that a government bureaucracy will be any more efficient than the current insurance system?

Fraud and waste are the hallmarks of many government programs including Medicare and Medicaid.

Insurance companies have a profit motive to keep costs down by investigating fraud. Where does this same motivation come in government? There is none.

What if the system creates price controls for goods and services?

If the legal system is not reformed to prevent excessive damage awards against health care professionals and institutions, we will put the medical industry in a vise from which it cannot escape.

While paying increasing legal costs with no way to pass along the expense, fewer will enter the medical profession and corporate innovation will disappear.

The supply of health care will decrease while the demand stays the same. This will mean only one thing - the government will need to pay more to keep the system afloat.

Do we want a system like Canada's where people often wait months for basic procedures? Americans are not used to being told that we need to wait for health care.

A paradigm shift would have to occur before the American people would accept a more socialized approach.

As I said, I am torn. What is your opinion? Please e-mail letters@the-signal.com and let's hear your view.

Steve Lunetta is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Right About Now" runs Mondays in The Signal.

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