“…whoever has the world’s goods and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” ( John 3:17)
I begin this discussion about health-care reform by making an appeal to those who believe in the Word of God and in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As believers, we recognize that without God’s merciful, compassionate love for humankind and having made a provision to escape the punishment for sinful behavior, we have committed our lives to be God’s people of love, compassion, mercy and to extend this same act of love and grace to others as well.
In a similar manner, I appeal to secular humanists, that though they may not share in my belief in God, they, too, may have a desire to elevate man’s condition that offers hope for the future of all humankind.
Back to the issue of health care reform. With perhaps the exception of the independently wealthy, most people live dangerously close to the edge of financial disaster. All it takes to begin the downward spiral toward financial ruin is an untimely medical diagnosis that reveals a permanent physical condition that requires access to expensive medical treatments to sustain a normal quality of life.
For sake of this discussion, added to the above mentioned family medical crisis is a change in employment status by the primary wage earner, or by both, caused by a major economic downturn or the unexpected change in financial direction of either spouse’s place of employment.
What was a difficult, yet manageable, situation now becomes the primary threat to the family’s financial survival. The crisis may deepen further when employer-sponsored health insurance coverage levels radically changes or is no longer available as an option.
In health-care-industry jargon, the term “pre-existing condition” is the health-care industry’s justification to charging higher premiums or denying access to coverage at any price.
This scenario—or variations of it—plays out in the lives of thousands of families with consistent regularity in a nation that, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group in New York, spends more than twice as much on each person for health care as most other industrialized countries. But it has fallen to last place among those countries in preventing deaths through use of timely and effective medical care.
Such crises are enveloping young married couples that are having children and believing a bright future lies just around the corner. Such crises are enveloping middle-aged couples who are launching their children into adulthood, only to be faced with a major illness and an employment setback that places their entire future in jeopardy.
This is the primary reason why 62 percent of all bankruptcies are health-care related, according to a 2007 national study reported in the American Journal of Medicine, May 2009.
In today’s politically charged debate over legislative language alleging the creation of “death panels” that threaten to “pull the plug on Grandma,” I submit we already have death panels in the health-care industry. It’s called the corporate board room, where decisions were made that segregated healthy policyholders from policyholders needing access to health-care facilities.
The health-insurance industry has been “pulling the plug” on millions of people—young and old alike—for decades, and we the people have been duped into thinking they were making these decisions for our benefit.
The practice of pooling is a good thing—if you stay healthy. It’s not a good thing if you or a family member needs access to your health benefits.
This industry-wide move toward segregating risk in order to enhance the bottom line has even affected socially conscious health-insurance providers, such as Mennonite Mutual Aid, in that it is difficult to remain competitive.
In the earlier years when the practice of pooling and segregating policyholders took hold, as healthy families chose other health-care plans, families remaining with MMA saw their premiums dramatically rise even faster than the already higher rates of their competitors.
Whether health-care reform includes a public option or a “cooperative” option, that is not as important and as crucial as the regulations that oversee all health-care options.
These regulations should include:
1. Access to affordable health care and affordable health-insurance plans must be universal without discriminating between healthy individuals and those needing access to health care. The practice of pooling policyholders according to risk levels and denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions must be eliminated.
2. The health-care industry must be free of barriers to competitors and anti-trust oversight must be aggressive. Regulations in the marketplace must be primarily focused on ensuring the safety of medical practices and related products. In a free-market society, barriers to competition foster monopolistic practices that hinder the entrepreneurial spirit and discourage innovation and efficiency.
3. As an incentive to encourage people to improve their physical condition, we should emphasize realistic options to lower the costs of health care. Instead of threatening to “pull the plug on Grandma,” we need to emphasize the benefits of making healthy lifestyle choices that prolong life and improve our physical health.