So Wall Street is going to get a government bail out. So much for the free market. To put $700 billion into perspective, that would equal about $144,000 for every person in the state of Colorado. It’s a massive move aimed at saving the American financial system (and that of the world, since American markets are so entrenched in global economics). Nobody likes to see it happen, but it does appear to be the lesser of two very bad choices when you consider the collapse of the financial industry as the alternative.
People who are opposed to government intervention in the health care industry love to talk about the free market system. They like to describe how supply and demand drive health care costs just as they drive any other costs in a capitalistic system. They love to throw around words like “socialism” and “rationing.” And of course whenever there’s talk of increasing the part that government plays in our health care system, there is much hand wringing about where we would get the money.
Last year, total health care spending in the US reached $2.3 trillion. That is undeniably a huge amount of money. But the $700 billion that the government is proposing to bail out the financial industry amounts to nearly a third of everything that was spent on health care in this country last year.
So what is keeping the government from expanding Medicaid? Or SCHIP? What about a federal re-insurance program to pick up the tab when claims exceed a certain dollar amount? Or a federal health insurance program for people with pre-existing conditions who are unable to qualify for private individual health insurance (one that could be used anywhere and didn’t have the low lifetime caps typical of state high risk pools)? What about government subsidies for health insurance premiums to keep premium increases in line with inflation? Where’s the government bail out for the millions of American who are suffering because of the state of our health care industry?
Just as government officials are now calling for salary and bonus caps for financial industry executives at the companies that will be caught in this government safety net, I propose the same thing for the health care industry. You won’t be able to convince me that anyone needs to earn more than $1million/year, including stock options (in fact, I would set that number far lower, but just for argument’s sake, I’m using a nice round million). No more bonuses for health insurance company CEOs. Or for hospital administrators. Or for pharmaceutical executives. Until we get our health care system back on track, with health insurance for all Americans and health care that is truly accessible and affordable for everyone, nobody in the industry is doing a good enough job to warrant a bonus. What’s happened on Wall Street recently is a good example of how well any industry will do at regulating itself when money is the main concern. Within the health care industry there are plenty of examples of unethical behavior in the name of making money – in health insurance, in pharmaceuticals, and among providers. We have a cobbled-together system that consists of 50 different sets of state regulations, and hundreds of health insurance carriers and network systems. The lack of uniformity and federal regulation is costly and detrimental to our health care system.
Even if you’re not in support of a single-payer government-run health care system, after watching Wall Street implode and fall back on government support, it’s hard to justify continuing on the same path we’re on with health care. We could use at least a little government intervention. Maybe a ban on pharmaceutical advertising. Coupled with an end to the fees that the FDA charges drug companies to review new drugs. Maybe some government subsidies on new health care technology that private health insurance carriers are hesitant to pay for right now, but that will eventually lead to lower costs overall. And a national, federally funded high risk pool for people unable to qualify for individual health insurance. The health care industry is broken, but isn’t a lost cause and it doesn’t have to be scrapped completely. A little government intervention could go a long way towards getting health insurance and access to health care for all Americans. It does appear that the government is willing to bail out a major free market system if things get bad enough. I just wonder how bad things will have to get in the health care industry before it’s considered bad enough.