5 freedoms you'd lose in health care reform

jetsetter

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5 freedoms you'd lose in health care reform

If you read the fine print in the Congressional plans, you'll find that a lot of cherished aspects of the current system would disappear.

By Shawn Tully, editor at large
July 24, 2009: 10:17 AM ET
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- In promoting his health-care agenda, President Obama has repeatedly reassured Americans that they can keep their existing health plans -- and that the benefits and access they prize will be enhanced through reform.
A close reading of the two main bills, one backed by Democrats in the House and the other issued by Sen. Edward Kennedy's Health committee, contradict the President's assurances. To be sure, it isn't easy to comb through their 2,000 pages of tortured legal language. But page by page, the bills reveal a web of restrictions, fines, and mandates that would radically change your health-care coverage.
If you prize choosing your own cardiologist or urologist under your company's Preferred Provider Organization plan (PPO), if your employer rewards your non-smoking, healthy lifestyle with reduced premiums, if you love the bargain Health Savings Account (HSA) that insures you just for the essentials, or if you simply take comfort in the freedom to spend your own money for a policy that covers the newest drugs and diagnostic tests -- you may be shocked to learn that you could lose all of those good things under the rules proposed in the two bills that herald a health-care revolution.
In short, the Obama platform would mandate extremely full, expensive, and highly subsidized coverage -- including a lot of benefits people would never pay for with their own money -- but deliver it through a highly restrictive, HMO-style plan that will determine what care and tests you can and can't have. It's a revolution, all right, but in the wrong direction.
Let's explore the five freedoms that Americans would lose under Obamacare:
1. Freedom to choose what's in your plan
The bills in both houses require that Americans purchase insurance through "qualified" plans offered by health-care "exchanges" that would be set up in each state. The rub is that the plans can't really compete based on what they offer. The reason: The federal government will impose a minimum list of benefits that each plan is required to offer.
Today, many states require these "standard benefits packages" -- and they're a major cause for the rise in health-care costs. Every group, from chiropractors to alcohol-abuse counselors, do lobbying to get included. Connecticut, for example, requires reimbursement for hair transplants, hearing aids, and in vitro fertilization.
The Senate bill would require coverage for prescription drugs, mental-health benefits, and substance-abuse services. It also requires policies to insure "children" until the age of 26. That's just the starting list. The bills would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to add to the list of required benefits, based on recommendations from a committee of experts. Americans, therefore, wouldn't even know what's in their plans and what they're required to pay for, directly or indirectly, until after the bills become law.
2. Freedom to be rewarded for healthy living, or pay your real costs
As with the previous example, the Obama plan enshrines into federal law one of the worst features of state legislation: community rating. Eleven states, ranging from New York to Oregon, have some form of community rating. In its purest form, community rating requires that all patients pay the same rates for their level of coverage regardless of their age or medical condition.
Americans with pre-existing conditions need subsidies under any plan, but community rating is a dubious way to bring fairness to health care. The reason is twofold: First, it forces young people, who typically have lower incomes than older workers, to pay far more than their actual cost, and gives older workers, who can afford to pay more, a big discount. The state laws gouging the young are a major reason so many of them have joined the ranks of uninsured.
Under the Senate plan, insurers would be barred from charging any more than twice as much for one patient vs. any other patient with the same coverage. So if a 20-year-old who costs just $800 a year to insure is forced to pay $2,500, a 62-year-old who costs $7,500 would pay no more than $5,000.
Second, the bills would ban insurers from charging differing premiums based on the health of their customers. Again, that's understandable for folks with diabetes or cancer. But the bills would bar rewarding people who pursue a healthy lifestyle of exercise or a cholesterol-conscious diet. That's hardly a formula for lower costs. It's as if car insurers had to charge the same rates to safe drivers as to chronic speeders with a history of accidents.
3. Freedom to choose high-deductible coverage
The bills threaten to eliminate the one part of the market truly driven by consumers spending their own money. That's what makes a market, and health care needs more of it, not less.
Hundreds of companies now offer Health Savings Accounts to about 5 million employees. Those workers deposit tax-free money in the accounts and get a matching contribution from their employer. They can use the funds to buy a high-deductible plan -- say for major medical costs over $12,000. Preventive care is reimbursed, but patients pay all other routine doctor visits and tests with their own money from the HSA account. As a result, HSA users are far more cost-conscious than customers who are reimbursed for the majority of their care.
The bills seriously endanger the trend toward consumer-driven care in general. By requiring minimum packages, they would prevent patients from choosing stripped-down plans that cover only major medical expenses. "The government could set extremely low deductibles that would eliminate HSAs," says John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a free-market research group. "And they could do it after the bills are passed."
4. Freedom to keep your existing plan
This is the freedom that the President keeps emphasizing. Yet the bills appear to say otherwise. It's worth diving into the weeds -- the territory where most pundits and politicians don't seem to have ventured.
The legislation divides the insured into two main groups, and those two groups are treated differently with respect to their current plans. The first are employees covered by the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974. ERISA regulates companies that are self-insured, meaning they pay claims out of their cash flow, and don't have real insurance. Those are the GEs (GE, Fortune 500) and Time Warners (TWX, Fortune 500) and most other big companies.
The House bill states that employees covered by ERISA plans are "grandfathered." Under ERISA, the plans can do pretty much what they want -- they're exempt from standard packages and community rating and can reward employees for healthy lifestyles even in restrictive states.
But read on.
The bill gives ERISA employers a five-year grace period when they can keep offering plans free from the restrictions of the "qualified" policies offered on the exchanges. But after five years, they would have to offer only approved plans, with the myriad rules we've already discussed. So for Americans in large corporations, "keeping your own plan" has a strict deadline. In five years, like it or not, you'll get dumped into the exchange. As we'll see, it could happen a lot earlier.
The outlook is worse for the second group. It encompasses employees who aren't under ERISA but get actual insurance either on their own or through small businesses. After the legislation passes, all insurers that offer a wide range of plans to these employees will be forced to offer only "qualified" plans to new customers, via the exchanges.
The employees who got their coverage before the law goes into effect can keep their plans, but once again, there's a catch. If the plan changes in any way -- by altering co-pays, deductibles, or even switching coverage for this or that drug -- the employee must drop out and shop through the exchange. Since these plans generally change their policies every year, it's likely that millions of employees will lose their plans in 12 months.
5. Freedom to choose your doctors
The Senate bill requires that Americans buying through the exchanges -- and as we've seen, that will soon be most Americans -- must get their care through something called "medical home." Medical home is similar to an HMO. You're assigned a primary care doctor, and the doctor controls your access to specialists. The primary care physicians will decide which services, like MRIs and other diagnostic scans, are best for you, and will decide when you really need to see a cardiologists or orthopedists.
Under the proposals, the gatekeepers would theoretically guide patients to tests and treatments that have proved most cost-effective. The danger is that doctors will be financially rewarded for denying care, as were HMO physicians more than a decade ago. It was consumer outrage over despotic gatekeepers that made the HMOs so unpopular, and killed what was billed as the solution to America's health-care cost explosion.
The bills do not specifically rule out fee-for-service plans as options to be offered through the exchanges. But remember, those plans -- if they exist -- would be barred from charging sick or elderly patients more than young and healthy ones. So patients would be inclined to game the system, staying in the HMO while they're healthy and switching to fee-for-service when they become seriously ill. "That would kill fee-for-service in a hurry," says Goodman.
In reality, the flexible, employer-based plans that now dominate the landscape, and that Americans so cherish, could disappear far faster than the 5 year "grace period" that's barely being discussed.
Companies would have the option of paying an 8% payroll tax into a fund that pays for coverage for Americans who aren't covered by their employers. It won't happen right away -- large companies must wait a couple of years before they opt out. But it will happen, since it's likely that the tax will rise a lot more slowly than corporate health-care costs, especially since they'll be lobbying Washington to keep the tax under control in the righteous name of job creation.

http://money.cnn.com/2009/07/24/new...bama.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2009072410

Here is hoping Obama and his "plan" fail hard.
 

MattMan

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here here, hope this plan crashes and burns. Gotta love the jam it down your throat approach they're taking before they think we'll actually read this bill. What a joke, here's to your hope and change this country wanted.
 

katwalk

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This isn't anything new for me since it is existentially the mandatory discount insurance I am on right now....
Massachusetts of course is SO AHEAD on these things.
 

jeffy777

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EDIT: I've changed my mind since I posted.
 
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Plissken

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Now.. correct me if I'm wrong.

Under this health care reform, rich people, such as writers for Fortune magazine are still free to pay into a private health plan. Which means they lose no "freedoms" at all. Nothing is being taken away from those people.

Again, and I'm fully prepared to be corrected, is that Obamas plan extends health care to those who can't afford it. And to be honest, those people don't have the "freedom" to choose a doctor right now, so they aren't losing out.

Isn't the use of the word "freedom" a shitty way of framing this? But hey, it fits the agenda that "health care=communism".

But then, a national health plan is clearly a bad thing - why should I pay $250/month for absolutely everything when I can pay $700/month for less than half of the coverage?
 

WillDAQ

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As a member of the "rest of world" group the US system current and future is just mystifying.

The NHS has it's problems, but it provides a basic standard of medical treatment for all UK citizens with no end user fee. The idea that having been rushed to A&E i'd then have to pay for the ambulance seems ridiculous. There is such a big difference in mentality .
 

Plissken

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This is what the opponents of health care reform want to see continue.

Whistleblower tells of America's hidden nightmare for its sick poor

Wendell Potter can remember exactly when he took the first steps on his journey to becoming a whistleblower and turning against one of the most powerful industries in America.

It was July 2007 and Potter, a senior executive at giant US healthcare firm Cigna, was visiting relatives in the poverty-ridden mountain districts of northeast Tennessee. He saw an advert in a local paper for a touring free medical clinic at a fairground just across the state border in Wise County, Virginia.

Potter, who had worked at Cigna for 15 years, decided to check it out. What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements.

For Potter it was a dreadful realisation that healthcare in America had failed millions of poor, sick people and that he, and the industry he worked for, did not care about the human cost of their relentless search for profits. "It was over-powering. It was just more than I could possibly have imagined could be happening in America," he told the Observer

Potter resigned shortly afterwards. Last month he testified in Congress, becoming one of the few industry executives to admit that what its critics say is true: healthcare insurance firms push up costs, buy politicians and refuse to pay out when many patients actually get sick. In chilling words he told a Senate committee: "I worked as a senior executive at health insurance companies and I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick: all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors."

Potter's claims are at the centre of the biggest political crisis of Barack Obama's young presidency. Obama, faced with 47 million Americans without health insurance, has put reforming the system at the top of his agenda. If he succeeds, he will have pushed through one of the greatest changes to domestic policy of any president. If he fails, his presidency could be broken before it is even a year old. Last week, in a sign of how high the stakes are, he addressed the nation in a live TV news conference. It is the sort of event usually reserved for a moment of deep national crisis, such as a terrorist attack. But Obama wanted to talk about healthcare. "This is about every family, every business and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades," he told the nation.

Obama's plans are now mired and the opponents of reform are winning. The Republican attack machine has cranked into gear, labelling reform as "socialist" and warning ordinary Americans that government bureaucrats, not doctors, will choose their medicines. The bill's opponents say the huge cost can only be paid by massive tax increases on ordinary Americans and that others will have their current healthcare plans taken away. Many centrist Democratic congressmen, wary of their conservative voters, are wavering. The legislation has failed to meet Obama's August deadline and is now delayed until after the summer recess. Many fear that this loss of momentum could kill it altogether.

To Potter that is no surprise. He has seen all this before. In his long years with Cigna he rose to be the company's top PR executive. He had an eagle-eye view of the industry's tactics of scuppering political efforts to get it to reform. "This is a very wealthy industry and they use PR very effectively. They manipulate public opinion and the news media and they have built up these relationships with all these politicians through campaign contributions," Potter said.

Potter was witness to the campaign against Michael Moore's healthcare documentary Sicko. The industry slammed the film as one-sided and politically motivated. Secret documents leaked from the American Health Insurance Plans, the industry's lobby group, detailed the plan to paint Moore as a fringe radical. Potter now says the film "hit the nail on the head". "The Michael Moore movie that I saw was full of truth," he admits.

Potter was also working for Cigna when it became embroiled in the case of Nataline Sarkisyan, whose family went public after Cigna refused to pay for a liver transplant that it considered "experimental" and therefore not covered by their policy. Cigna reversed this decision only hours before the Californian teenager died. "I wish I could have done more in that case," Potter said.

Such sentiments are rare in an industry that has given America a healthcare system that can be cripplingly expensive for patients, but that does not produce a healthier population. The industry is often accused of wriggling out of claims. Firms comb medical records for any technicality that will allow them to refuse to pay. In one recently publicised example, a retired nurse from Texas discovered she had breast cancer. Yet her policy was cancelled because her insurers found she had previously had treatment for acne, which the dermatologist had mistakenly noted as pre-cancerous. They decreed she had misinformed them about her medical history and her double mastectomy was cancelled just three days before the operation.

Last month three healthcare executives were grilled about such "rescinding" tactics by a congressional subcommittee. When asked if they would abandon them except in cases of deliberately proven fraud, each executive replied simply: "No."

To Potter that attitude has a sad logic. The healthcare industry generates enormous profits and its top executives have a lavish corporate lifestyle that he once shared. Treating patients for their expensive conditions is bad for business as it reduces the bottom line. Kicking out patients who pursue claims makes perfect economic sense. "It is a system that is rigged against the policyholder," Potter said. The congressional probe found that just three firms had rescinded more than 20,000 policyholders between 2003 and 2007, saving hundreds of millions. "That's a lot of money that will now go towards their profits," Potter said.

A lot of that money also goes into contributions to politicians of both parties - $372m in the past nine years - and in lobbying groups to run TV ads slamming Obama's plans. Many of these ads deploy naked scare tactics. One report said that the industry was spending $1.4m a day on its campaign. In the face of that, it is perhaps no wonder that the Senate has delayed its vote, dealing a massive blow to Obama. "I have seen how the opponents of healthcare reform go to work... they are trying to delay action. They know that if they keep the process going for months, and turn it into a big mess, then the political impetus behind it will lessen," Potter said.

Potter, who now works at the Centre for Media and Democracy in Wisconsin, says the industry is afraid of Obama's reforms and that is why it is fighting so hard. It wants to deal him the same blow as it did Bill Clinton when it scuppered his attempt at reform in the 1990s. Potter admits that he is worried the industry might win again. "I have seen their tactics work. I have been a part of it," he said. He knows he has no chance of ever working again for a major firm. "I am a whistleblower and corporate America does not tend to like that," he said. But there is one thing Potter is not sorry about: leaving the healthcare industry and speaking out. "I have absolutely no regrets. I am doing the right thing," he said.

Comprehensive healthcare reform in the US has been an ambition of many presidents since the early part of the 20th century. None has succeeded in creating a system that gives all Americans the right to coverage. Barack Obama, below, is desperate to avoid the same fate.
 

SirEdward

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2. Freedom to be rewarded for healthy living, or pay your real costs

sorry, but this is not a "freedom" in itself. This is choosing between two rights, and probably choosing the less valuable, actually losing some of your freedom.

It might seems right, when you are young, and healthy, and maybe rich, to ask for the "freedom", your right to not pay more than what you cost. And your right it is, indeed. But then, if you need treatments you can't afford, you suddenly notice what you've lost: you've lost your right to be healthy, you've lost your freedom to choose whether to be healthy or unhealthy. It's not that you can't be treated, it's that you can't afford it. Someone else's decides upon your life. It's not that he can't save you, it is he won't because you can't pay enough. That's sad. Let's not forget that many people simply don't choose to be unhealthy, they just are, even if they don't follow unhealthy lifestyles.

To have one freedom, the freedom to choose to be cured, the freedom to choose to help other people so that other people may choose to help you when you need it, you need to renounce (totally or in part) to your freedom to only pay what you actually cost.

it's a hard choice, but it not as if someone is about to rob you from your money.

-------------

As usual, this is my opinion.
 

Plissken

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When do people choose to get sick? "What do I fancy doing today? I know, I'll get cancer!" Look at the swine flu thing, people aren't choosing to catch it. It happens. So does busting a knee while doing something healthy like playing sport.
 

ahpadt

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When do people choose to get sick? "What do I fancy doing today? I know, I'll get cancer!" Look at the swine flu thing, people aren't choosing to catch it. It happens. So does busting a knee while doing something healthy like playing sport.

Only in America. :lol:
 

un-dee

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I'm sorry, but seeing how fucked up the american health care system is in its current state and also seeing that the health care costs are twice as high as in most other first world countries I think its rather weird to see so much hostility towards a new system.
Here in Germany you can choose your own doctor while still being on the standard health care plan. We had a reform this year so every insurance has to offer the basic plan to anyone, so the risks are evenly distributed and nobody has to give up his life for paying medical bills.
You can also have a private health care plan with all private insurances if you want more coverage.
 

Plissken

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Un-dee, quit thinking like that - it makes you a Goddamned Communist! :)
 

nomix

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What you will get:

The freedom to be treathed no matter who you are, where you live, what you earn, what your condition is and so on.

There is a great scare about socialized health care. It is generally without merit, and merly theoretical.
 

LeVeL

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Now.. correct me if I'm wrong.

Under this health care reform, rich people, such as writers for Fortune magazine are still free to pay into a private health plan. Which means they lose no "freedoms" at all. Nothing is being taken away from those people.

Again, and I'm fully prepared to be corrected, is that Obamas plan extends health care to those who can't afford it. And to be honest, those people don't have the "freedom" to choose a doctor right now, so they aren't losing out.

Isn't the use of the word "freedom" a shitty way of framing this? But hey, it fits the agenda that "health care=communism".

But then, a national health plan is clearly a bad thing - why should I pay $250/month for absolutely everything when I can pay $700/month for less than half of the coverage?

I am by no means "rich" and yet I am currently able to choose my own doctor. Hell, I just switched last year!
I'm not sure why health insurance should be mandatory in the first place. If you want to but into it, then by all means go right ahead. If you don't get sick very often (maybe that's a bad example lol) and think you can get by without insurance, then you shouldn't be forced to get it.
 

ViperVX

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It's funny how in the country where 2/3 are overweight and 1/3 are Obese, ppl fight to deny health care to 50 million who can't afford it, instead of denying fast food to 350 million.
 
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LeVeL

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It's funny how in the country where 2/3 are Obese, ppl fight to deny health care to 50 million who can't afford it, instead of denying fast food to 350 million.

I'd like to see your facts, please. Also, just because my neighbor is a fatass, doesn't mean that I want Obama to shove his idea of what my healthcare plan should be down my throat.
 
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