Health care isn't what's causing our budget problems, much as the Right would have you believe. In fact, increasing access to Medicare could solve a lot of issues.
Medicare spends about 3 percent of what it takes in on administration -- there are no multi-million-dollar bonuses or high-paid lobbyists and public relations costs. Private insurance companies spend 20 percent, often more.
Physicians' offices have to hire entire departments of employees just to fight insurance companies' unjust denials, and no two companies' billing procedures are identical, so the confusing differences in billing make it even more likely that someone will be denied payment. Government programs are not alone in having intricate codes and requirements.
Americans spend nearly two-and-a-half times more per person on health care than do other industrialized nations, yet our life expectancy is shorter (77.9 years – below the verage 79.4 years of other advanced nations). And we have the highest rate of infant mortality of all industrialized nations. We have higher rates of caesarean birth, which is more expensive and more dangerous to both mother and child.
When you have a for-profit health care system, you wind up getting more MRIs for lower back pain and paying for more surgery, when the best route to relieving lower back pain in about 95 percent of patients is physical therapy.
A for-profit system also benefits from letting people get sicker. Rather than manage chronic illness, we allow it to progress to crisis -- high blood pressure leads to stroke, high cholesterol leads to heart problems, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to kidney failure and other expensive complications. Later cancer diagnoses are very profitable for the pharmecautical companies, since each round of chemotherapy can cost a quarter million dollars or more.
When you catch illnesses earlier, there's less expense -- and more importantly, less human suffering. The less we spend now on caring for people, the more we spend later, and the only beneficiaries of all that spending are the corporations that run the medical industrial complex.
Now is not the time to cut Medicaid and Medicare; now is the time to expand them and make them available to more Americans. I don't care if we move to all-Medicare. I'm happy to leave the option open to those who can afford it to stay in the for-profit system; I just don't think I should be forced to be part of our broken, greedy for-profit system anymore.
Why is Medicare, which takes care of the people who use the most health care, more efficient than private health insurance companies? Medicare doesn't have to consider the bottom line for its stockholders before anything else. By law, corporations' first obligation is to their stockholders.
One of the most expensive pieces of medical care is collecting money. Every physician has to have a billing office to deal with insurance companies whose first obligation is to keep the money you pay in for its stockholders. Billing experts can work around insurance company denials, but they're not cheap. Most practices have several people doing billing, and hospitals have entire departments. We spend more than any other industrialized nation's health system to collect money.