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Healthcare on the Ballot, and a Free Side of Fries

By: Ron E. Peck

If you are looking for a blog post listing specific healthcare related questions appearing on ballots, and a technical assessment of each, look elsewhere.  If you were hoping for a dissection of candidates advertising heavily their support or opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and how that position will likely effect their likelihood of being elected (and what they says about the population’s attitude regarding healthcare and “Obamacare”), you can find a million articles on that topic somewhere else.  My goal is to step back and assess the big picture.

I’ve read that “healthcare” is the biggest topic on most voters’ minds.  That makes me laugh, because “healthcare” is such a broad topic, it captures everything.  Further, it is something about which most people are painfully misled or ignorant.

In many other areas, some politicians basically say: “I want more of this.  If I do what I want, these great things will happen…” and the opponent says, “Yes… but that thing will cost this much, and we will need to pay for it with higher taxes.  It’s a nice idea, but not worth the money.  We have more important things to do with that money.”  Voters then decide whether that “thing” is worth the cost.

When I was in the 6th grade, we held a mock election.  I was one of two presidential candidates, and was up against Zach.  In the primaries, we all had discussed things that were important to us, and realistic goals we had for our classmates in the coming year, and apparently the majority of kids agreed with me and Zach.  So we get to the election, and during our debate, Zach unleashes a barrage of questions about topics I’m sure he didn’t understand (that his parents fed him)… I mean… what 6th grader is asking another about their position on abortion; am I right?  Regardless, when faced with this ridiculous assault, me and my team resorted to the age old strategy of smearing the other candidate.  My team and I brought up every nasty thing Zach had ever done to someone else.  I won, though I’m not proud of it.  That year I learned that smear campaigns work.

The next year was my first year of junior high school.  We promptly began elections for student council, and given the previous year’s success, I was sure I had it in the bag.  That’s when another candidate did something I’d never seen, and will not soon forget.  He made promises.  He promised better food in the cafeteria; longer recreation periods between classes; and more.  By the time he was done, I was ready to vote for him too!  The issue?  After he won, nothing happened.  Why?  Because no one could realistically pay the cost of delivering on those promises.

Fast forward only a few years (yeah right), and here I sit.  I witness before me politicians promising to maintain (or – gasp – expand) health benefits and coverage, without addressing the cost of doing so.  The opposition, meanwhile, can’t whip out the old reliable “anti-promises” stick (also known as the “we don’t want higher taxes” campaign), because – unlike almost all other issues politicians debate – we have privatized a huge portion of healthcare taxes.  Make no mistake.  When we force people to either pay a penalty or buy insurance, and the money that we all contribute is used to pay for “things” that benefit society… and when we increase the size and scope of those “things” and the resultant payments we all make to purchase insurance increases … that is the same as an increase in taxes.  The problem is that by privatizing this tax as “insurance,” we dumbfound politicians and confuse the public.

No one will look at an image of a sick child, and argue they should not receive care.  No one is “pro-illness” or “pro-death” and “anti-healthcare.”  Yet, anytime anyone argues that buying more healthcare without assessing what we’re buying, or more importantly, the price of what we’re buying, they are labeled as those things… and worse.

Meanwhile, the voting public is blissfully unaware of how increasing coverage on the one hand, will cost them more on the other hand.  Our healthcare payment system is so convoluted, people don’t see how an action today will cost them down the line.  For most, mandating coverage for this condition or expanding coverage to that person is – in their mind – free.  The only one who suffers is the “greedy insurance companies.”  Bottom line?  If you order a cheeseburger, and I ask if you want fries with it… and I tell you the fries are free… YOU AREN’T GOING TO SAY NO TO THE FREE FRIES!

Sadly, many insurance carriers and benefit plans do suffer from inefficiencies and other issues that result in them receiving too much, and handing out too little.  It is true that for some payers, they could “tighten the belt” a little, to ensure more is covered without passing the cost onto everyone else.  But, for the most part, what people don’t understand, is that along with the people working for the carrier, they too – the policy holders – are also part of the so-called “insurance company.”  The money used to pay for healthcare comes from the pockets of the patients and policyholders.  Whether it be through contributions to a self-funded plan or premiums paid to a carrier, we – as the people paying the bills – deserve to know that our plan or policy is being managed prudently and effectively.  We have a right to demand that the carrier or plan is not wasteful or too focused on profits at our expense, and that they are coordinating with providers of healthcare to ensure we have access to care at an affordable price.  As the ones “footing the bill” we should rest assured that everyone involved has the information they need to achieve an exchange of consideration that doesn’t overly favor one party or abuse another.

I have no issue with making efforts, legally or otherwise, to expand healthcare and improve the overall health and wellbeing of my fellow Americans.  My concern is that until people truly understand the cost of healthcare, and who’s ultimately paying for the fries (in the form of an upcharge on the burger), people won’t make educated decisions or first assess our current spending to identify and eliminate inefficiencies BEFORE we throw more money at the problem.

But then again… what do I know?  I couldn’t even win my student council election.