Shopping for body parts insurance

-A A +A
By Jim Flynn

Politicians are at their dumbest when discussing health care and health care financing. There are rare exceptions, such as Congressman Pete Stark of California and Hillary Clinton, who spent months learning about both care and financing during her husband’s first term in office. That’s not to say her ideas are right, but at least she knows what she’s talking about.

Recently presidential nominee John McCain offered up his health care financing program – a tax credit of $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families, not much help when non-group coverage costs and average of $4,500 for an individual an $12,000 for a family plan.

The object of the McCain proposal is to privatize health financing and let the free market do its magic. It’s the same proposal President Bush made when he had a Republican Congress. It went nowhere.

Mr. McCain may believe his plan will make health care more efficient, control costs, and reduce government interference – but it won’t. Buying health care just isn’t the same as buying cars and groceries. Where would folks shop? What would they compare?

Government involvement in health care financing came about because health coverage isn’t really insurance in the classical sense. It isn’t a pot of money accumulated to pay for rare occurrences and catastrophes. Health insurance is constant of cash flow. Technically, it’s prepaid certainty.

Easy illustration: You can insure your family car for a year for $1,000 and your family’s house for $1,000. However, the average family health plan cost more than $12,000 last year. Why? Because most participants draw money from the pot regularly.

The probability that you will have an auto accident or that your house will burn down is remote. If either happens, costs will be covered out of premiums paid by thousands of other people in your town, county, and state who didn’t have a loss. Most of you won’t have a loss next year either.

As to health insurance, most people use their health care coverage regularly. Dad hurts his back in the yard. Mom discovers a lump. Janie sprains an ankle at dance class. Johnnie breaks a leg sliding into second.

No topics generate more conversation in senior communities than symptoms, doctors, hospitals, medications, and rehabilitations. Little wonder health care expenditures represent 17 percent of our national economy. Health care and paying for it are the two biggest cartels in the country.

Paying for health care has been a perennial priority concern of voters. Presently health care is paid for by employer-financed group insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, individually purchased policies, the Veterans Health Care system, and a potpourri of state insurance plans. It’s a mish-mosh.

Doctors and hospitals voice their complaints about the financing mess, but they are not a strong voice for major reform. That might threaten control of their secure and lucrative share of $1.5 trillion mish-mosh.

Hillary Clinton is an advocate of universal health financing, in other words a single-payer plan. Barack Obama favors semi-universal financing, which may be a distinction with minor differences. Mr. McCain believes individual responsibility is the right course.

A recent syndicated column by Star Parker about Mr. McCain’s health financing proposal started out discussing “real structural health care reform,” and problems with “how we deliver health care.” Very confusing.

Anyone who tries to follow the health care financing debate soon discovers that confusion is not limited to average voters. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, executives, brokers, and even highly placed insurance managers have difficulty understanding their own health insurance.

When Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush talk markets and consumer power, peoples’ ears flap over, including members of Congress and most college graduates. Health financing will be a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign, and Mr. McCain is creating another opportunity for Democrats to characterize him as Bush III.

Our health care costs twice as much as the next most expensive country, and we have 50 million people uninsured. Realistically there is enough health money flowing through the private, federal, and state health programs to insure every man, woman, and child in the U.S. However, every attempt to rearrange the money flow causes an uproar.

Congress hates uproar. Like Social Security reform, health care financing seems to be a discussion without end.

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War, and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.