Monday, July 13, 2009

Place Your Bets: Public or Private Healthcare?

Just returned from Vegas, a city that's been devastated by the recession more than most. At best employers are using news of the economic downturn to force wage and benefit cuts on their staff (the folks at the hotel I stayed at for example had recently kissed goodbye to their 401Ks and were providing stellar service with a gritted teeth smile for 10% less). At worst, companies have just let people go en masse.

I was there for a friend's birthday party. He's one of the lucky ones who still has a job (he lost pension benefits however and is being forced to take two weeks unpaid leave). Sadly many of his friends haven't been so fortunate. Some had not only lost their jobs but had reached the limits of their unemployment benefit and were taking drastic measures to make ends meet (one ex-insurance agent is now a stripper, another girl with an accounting degree does odd jobs for $10 per hour). Several were also facing the loss of their homes (short sale anyone?).

And with the maximum unemployment benefit in Nevada coming in at $362 per week, health insurance -- especially COBRA -- was way beyond their budgets. So you'd think public health insurance might be a priority for those in Las Vegas. You'd be wrong.

Here's the Top 5 Reasons Why the Public Option is a Bad Idea as expressed to me by the folks I met in Sin City this past weekend:

1. There aren't enough doctors.
2. My health insurance costs $276 per month so I couldn't afford a $200 public option.
3. We need tort reform first.
4. As it is doctors only get 60-65% of what they bill.
5. I can only afford catastrophic health insurance, so for all intents and purposes I'm not insured for regular doctors visits.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the above statements would be reasons for the public option, not against it. And that's what disturbed me the most. These otherwise intelligent people would make a statement that was seemingly pro-public option, then follow up with a passionate argument about how black was really white.

The only explanation for this confused thinking that clearly defied logic was the decades of brainwashing by governments, politicians and the "health" industry, which has falsely managed to equate universal healthcare with communism and lack of choice in most people's mind. Personally, I'd like everyone to have the option of health care that goes beyond mere emergency room triage. That to me is real choice.

But I guess these people were feeling lucky, since they were all happy to roll the dice and play the health industry's wheel of fortune game. You'd think they'd know better -- and that the house always wins.

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