On One Hand

August 17, 2009

Will we have the Right to Boycott Private Health Insurers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:22 pm
Tags: ,

There are good people who work in the health insurance industry. My grandma worked there for years and receives a pension from her old job, she cares about the poor, goes to Mass on Sundays and always votes Democrat. She’s not evil, and there are others who work there who are like her. I’ve had to call Blue Cross Blue Shield with questions in the past, and they were friendly and polite when they read lists of doctor’s they work with. It’s not that I have a problem with private insurers doing what they do when they do right.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that the industry, in its entire function, is immoral. Not even morally ambiguous, not even hands-in-the-air, too-complicated-to-judge: it’s morally wrong. The industry is corrupt. When you realize that your career or industry is harmful to innocent people, we can all understand how torn you’d be over something you’re connected to, but you should lay it down and move on.

The private health insurance industry spent over 50 million dollars supporting John McCain and Republican candidates leading up to the 2008 elections – that’s money they got through your paychecks and premiums. The industry refuses to cover people who are sick before they need healthcare, and finds sneaky ways to avoid paying for care that customers thought they were going to get. In order to stay profitable, the health insurance industry sets up situations that kill people for lack of coverage; that force people to get sicker than they have to or choose between gravely risking their lives and bankruptcy. The system is fatally flawed, and for those that die of preventable diseases, there is no give-and-take; to them America’s current healthcare system is a 100% loss. Even many employees of insurance companies know that this is wrong; the decisions are being made by relatively few people, who are incredibly rich, and sit in the companies’ corporate boardrooms and seem to have utter disdain for the rest of America. The fact that Americans continue to tolerate such an immoral situation on their own soil, for fear of alternatives they haven’t read enough about to understand, is beyond me.

This whole conundrum became all the more obvious for me when I had to buy insurance on my own, and live life without the coverage I had though my dad’s company when I was young. To get insurance, I had to fill out a questionnaire that noted I would be ineligible for their self-bought plan if I’ve ever had Melanoma in my life. I hadn’t – so I was lucky – but my mom has, so she’d be screwed under this system if she didn’t get insurance through her job.

Now I pay about a hundred dollars a month that would only do me any good if I got injured in a serious car accident. The annual deductible is $4,000 dollars, so regular doctors visits or trips to get antibiotics when I have strep throat are out of the question – this is catastrophic coverage only, something that more and more plans are turning to. My ADHD meds are unobtainable, so my total life productivity goes way down, despite the fact that I still have to fork over the dough for insurance. Thank God I don’t have any more serious chronic health issues, thank God I’m never going to get pregnant, and thank God I’m young.

My biggest issue with the health insurance industry is the lengths it will go to in order to prevent us from even choosing something else. Barack Obama supports a government-run plan that would give individuals the chance to pay for their own insurance through a separate, not-for-profit system – something he even insisted would not be tax funded in any way. The system would give taxpayers an alternative to private health insurance, but anybody who liked his or her private insurance plan could keep it. There are lots of reasons to think a public option is necessary to fixing healthcare. But the heath insurance industry has railed so hard against that idea that even a strong Democratic majority and strong public support for the idea will likely fail to pass it, as a huge number of conservative Democrats and many Republicans receive big checks from health insurance companies. Howard Dean recently suggested that, instead, everyone should be allowed to buy Medicare coverage, paying for it themselves without taxpayer help.

The insurance industry immediately railed against Howard Dean’s idea, and looks poised to squash the idea before it even gains footing. The maddening “KEEP YOUR GRUBBY GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY HEALTHCARE” deathers are in tow. The industry will oppose anything that increases the number of people who can access healthcare not through them.

But what substantial health reform can we have, without a public option? Without serious reform, Medicare is going to bankrupt America because of the increasing number of senior citizens, along with too many people not covered by health insurance. We need everyone covered so the taxpayer stops having to foot the bill for late emergency care, which is not only more expensive than preventative care would have been, but is less effective, and more people die. We need everyone covered so we stop having low-income children fail through school because they can’t get eyeglasses or ADHD meds that they need to even stand a chance. We need everyone covered so that people who get HIV or cancer don’t go bankrupt with their expensive treatments. We need everyone covered so that we can join the rest of the developed world as a nation that really values human life.

It seems likely now that some kind of individual mandate will pass – which, in spite of all the issues it raises about individual autonomy, is a good thing. Everyone should be covered by health insurance and those who can’t afford it should get help. It’s better for everyone that way. But without some kind of public plan, it’s a bittersweet victory – because now we’re forced to send our hard-earn dollars, not to a nonprofit plan that exactly covers the expense of providing coverage, but to private companies that willingly lie and distort facts so that people die, that allow costs to inflate until they become prohibitive for countless ordinary people, that spend a huge chunk of their income on political advertising to oppose reform, and that turn most progressives’ stomachs with disgust.

That’s right, people who have done everything they can to hurt us will be getting our money by law.

Will we have the right to boycott private health insurance? Not if an individual mandate passes, which means that private companies will monopolize the market and their only incentive will be to charge higher premiums for worse products, to send a bigger dividend to stockholders. Perhaps the rest of a reform package will have valuable features that make the doctor’s office side of the healthcare system more efficient, that put emphasis on preventative care, and that do countless other good things for Americans. I hope one does passes.

But I also think I have a right, as an American, to boycott an immoral industry. Even without an individual mandate, I should be allowed to get access to health insurance without participating in someone else’s profit. I’m not saying abolish private health insurance – I never have – I’m saying give us the right to put our own money somewhere else – to put it in a government plan – if that’s what we choose. Libertarians, who oppose the use of eminent domain to turn property over to a private entity for redevelopment, should recognize that no one should be forced to give their dollars over to another private citizen’s profit – this is worse than tax. The public option is a painless way to avoid that.

So far, that looks to fail. It looks like the health insurance industry stands to gain as much as to lose from healthcare reform. It’s disgusting.



  1. Comment

    At the risk of speaking on the behalf of others – because I am clearly not a Libertarian – I think Libertarians would disagree with your comment:

    “Libertarians, who oppose the use of eminent domain to turn property over to a private entity for redevelopment, should recognize that no one should be forced to give their dollars over to another private citizen’s profit – this is worse than tax.”

    Rather, I think many would just say: “No one is forcing you to give your money to another citizen for healthcare. If you want healthcare and insurance, you choose to purchase it, and that is voluntary.” I’m quite sure they would emphasize that this is voluntary, even though its inevitable that some health incident will occur in their lives and its impractical to not have this covered by insurance.

    I’m not saying this is the wrong or right view; but I still think they would disagree with your characterizzation of “force” – even though, as I read your comment, I would agree: needing, not preferring, healthcare is forces you to contract with the health insurance industry.

    Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 19, 2009 @ 3:46 am | Reply

    • Re: Comment

      I think you missed the point of an individual mandate is.

      An individual mandate would mean that every person over the age of 18 is required by law to purchase health insurance. Massachusetts already has one in place, and some reformers are thinking of making it nationwide.

      Unfortunately this might be the only way to solve one major cost crisis in healthcare; people who get sick are still treated by hospitals, because hospitals cannot turn anyone away (it’s against national and international law). This ultimately turns into a burden for taxpayers (because the government helps pay for those patients) as well as for hospitals, which pass the fees on to paying patients.

      It would be a major human rights violation for hospitals to not treat patients who are bleeding to death or are in urgent need of care, but the only way to avoid those costs is to force them to either purchase health insurance or pay a fee for not purchasing it.

      Incidentally, the more people go off health insurance, the more hospitals have to take a hit on patients who declare bankruptcy or default on hospital bills, the more costs rise, and the more people are unable to fit health insurance into their budget so opt to go off of it. The individual mandate puts the brakes on that vicious cycle.

      Therefore, it literally would be required, by law, that individuals purchase insurance through a private company. Libertarians are very much against an individual mandate.

      The whole situation is complicated, and there is no way to satisfy liberatarians and avoid devolving into a tragic human rights crisis. But the least immoral way of doing it is with government subsidies and a public option. Insurance companies have pulled their strings to make that unlikely, so we will be stuck with some other alternative that is very certainly worse, less free, than a plan involving a public option would be.

      Comment by ononehand — August 19, 2009 @ 5:07 am | Reply

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