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Health Care Reform: insurance AND cost control

March 22, 2010

I am really not sure what to think of the health care reform bill that is about to be signed into law, mainly because I haven’t taken time to read the 1000 page document.  If you’re wondering what’s up, here are a couple of links that might be helpful.

  • The Christian Science Monitor published a series of articles that helps put the health care bill into plain English, including a nice dose of comic relief:  In order to cover the $940 billion price tag, they note that the bill establishes (among other taxes) a 10% tax on indoor tanning services, “but outdoor tanning services remain untaxed, of course.”
  • Last fall Ira Glass devoted two radio episodes of This American Life to health care: More Is Less, and Someone Else’s Money. What I like most about these programs is how well they communicate the incredibly complicated issues that surround health care and any attempts at reform. The mess we’re in was decades in the making, and it will take decades to claw our way out of it.

Clearly our country’s health care system is a mess. Too many people are uninsured or under-insured, and Americans spend way too much per capita on health care. But the bill that the House passed last night only addresses the insurance side of the equation. It does nothing to bring costs down — doesn’t even attempt to bring them under control. And given how much time and energy it took just to get this far down the road, I doubt we’ll see much political movement on the cost side of the equation between now and the next election.

Ironically, my wife Tracy and I were watching a sneak preview of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution last night when Diane Sawyer interrupted with the announcement that the House had passed the health care reform bill. In a nutshell, Food Revolution is kind of a cross between Super Nanny and Hell’s Kitchen. Jamie, who is much nicer than Chef Ramsay, descended last fall on Huntington, WV, allegedly the fattest, most unhealthy town in the fattest, most unhealthy country in the world. His mission: to change the town’s eating habits and to spread his gospel across the rest of the country.

“The fact of the matter,” he says, “is that the children of America, of today, in 2010, are going to live a shorter life than their parents….That’s an awful destiny for the children of America. And it ain’t just America, it’s England, too.” The primary focus of the sneak preview was on the town’s school cafeteria. A similar program Jamie produced in the U.K. persuaded then-prime minister Tony Blair to allocate an additional $453 million for healthy school lunches.

I think Jamie Oliver is onto something. He’s using his celebrity status to demonstrate that we have the power to bring down health care costs–and we don’t have to wait for the politicians to take care of it for us.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Colin permalink
    March 22, 2010 3:28 pm

    Great insights. I have to admit, I know our politics can differ every once in a while and I clicked on your post ready to disagree with everything you were going to say. Thank you for reminding me that different doesn’t usually mean wrong/crazy/bad. I think these are really complicated issues and I don’t know what the answers are. I’m happy reform was passed last night because I think if Obama failed to pass something it would be another 20 years before anybody even tried it again. I think there will be some bumpy months/years ahead for our healthcare system, but I’m confident we’ll get it figured out.

    I hope life post-AH is treating you well. I’d love to catch and find out how you’re spending your time these days!


    • March 22, 2010 3:43 pm

      Hey Colin! Politics is all deal-making and compromise, right? Around the time Ted Kennedy died I heard or read an interview in which he recalled a similar health care reform bill that the Nixon administration tried to push through Congress, and Ted expressed regret that he had stood in the way. Imagine how much better off we might be if the wheels had started turning 40 years ago!

  2. Tim permalink
    March 22, 2010 6:19 pm

    Wow, I feel so honored to comment on The Richard Potter’s blog. Seriously, you are always an insightful guy. What is frustrating to me is the name-calling and ridiculous accusations that get thrown around by both sides. I think socialized medicine can work, but only if the government is absolutely brutal on what is and is not covered. But they won’t have the guts. Ultimately we Americans are spoiled rotten. We want something for nothing. The truth is many of us thought we had this “free” or very cheap health insurance, only to find out how expensive it was when we had to pay the COBRA price when we lost our jobs. Those super awesome new technology advancements that lets doctors do incredible life-saving surgeries are also incredibly expensive, and they cost real money. So rationing HAS to happen for those of us not in the top 5% of incomes. And it needs to be me making the decision to pay or not pay for one of those expensive surguries or medications when it comes to my health.

    My father decided NOT to do another round of chemotherapy, and let God decide if he lived or died. I am so happy that decision was his, and not a government appointed official. My proposal, should I suddenly be named king, would be to penalize companies that provide insurance to their employees, and provide tax credits or deductions to individuals who purchase their own insurance. Only that would drive down cost, but we would have to have the courage to sometimes stare sickness or even death in the face.

    • March 22, 2010 6:36 pm

      And I am honored to have your comment! When my father was in the hospital, the chaplain gave mom and me a pamphlet called Hard Choices for Loving People. (free pdf). It explains how the American health care system is all about keeping the patient alive NO MATTER WHAT, with no thought about quality of life after the procedure. Docs don’t learn much about death with dignity in med school, and unless you are very specific in a living will or health care directive before the fact, you risk receiving care you didn’t ask for, and you’re financially responsible for it even though you didn’t ask for it. The Hospice Movement offers some welcome change in this area.

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