Hold on, Mr. Virtual President!
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. It seems that everyone, from politicians to pundits, comes to this debate armed with misinformation or worse, propaganda, and weighs in with their solutions without really understanding what is going on.
Take www.healthcare.gov for example, which is the portal for buying health insurance through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. What in the world does that site have to do with health care? Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Even that hallowed bastion of accuracy Wikipedia has it wrong (as of this writing), beginning its healthcare.gov page with the definition that it is “a health care exchange website…”
And so it is with great sadness that I must announce that another media personality whom I really like has, alas, totally missed the mark as well.
On November 22nd I took a break from the inundation of JFK anniversary reporting to watch a new video posted by conservative commentator Bill Whittle, the Virtual President. In his report, he lays out the case for why a 2¢ aspirin “costs” $20 when given in a health care setting, and endorses a plan to fix our fractured health care system.
Hold on, Mr. Virtual President. With all due respect, you’ve got it exactly wrong.
First, Mr. Whittle explains that the costs of health care are mostly driven by two “armies” that total about a million people, and stand between “what we pay for, and what we get.”
Half a million of them make up the army that is the health insurance industry. The other half million work for government agencies, and are responsible for processing all of the paperwork created by themselves, and the other army.
But if you think about it, this argument doesn’t add up. Even though these bloated bureaucracies surely contribute to waste, inefficiency, and even fraud, they cannot begin to account for what has driven the “costs” of health care through the proverbial roof.
Why? Because they are not the ones profiting from $20 aspirin tablets.
Let’s think it through: the various health insurers, employing their half a million-strong army pay for that workforce out of the health insurance premiums they receive from their customers, the insured, and not from fat profits realized off 1,000% markups.
In fact, since they are the ones being billed for the aspirin, in this scenario the health insurance companies are on your side, Mr. Virtual President. And I would imagine that they don’t like being overcharged for aspirin any more than you or I do.
The same goes for the government and its minions. Those folks are paid with tax dollars, not ill-gotten gains from bilking patients (or even health insurance plans). The agencies that regulate and pay for government-sponsored health care have no interest in the price of an aspirin, except to keep it as low as possible.
No, these excuses fall far short of explaining how our health care system got to be so outrageously overpriced. There is one, main, contributing factor, but like everyone else – including the real Mr. President – Bill just doesn’t seem to get it.
But he doesn’t end there; after identifying these two villains in the health care dilemma, the Virtual President goes on to endorse a particular proposal to fix the system. This PeoplePower Plan, devised by Idaho physicians Dr. Loel Fenwick and Dr. Richard Sugden, is, to put it mildly, a disaster.
Dr. Fenwick is an obstetrician who “designed and manufactured the American birth bed (and) created the Single-Room Maternity Care concept.” Really? Wow. Thanks for dreaming those up, doc 😉
Dr. Fenwick also seems to believe that health insurance is bunk. He states (at 29:03 in this video) that neither he nor his family has “never, ever had health care insurance.” Instead, Dr. Fenwick has set aside money throughout his career, and then used his position as a physician to help negotiate medical bills, including those for his father’s cancer treatment.
The good doctors’ Power Plan would replace health insurance with an employer-based contribution system, where all the money that you or your employer put into a so-called Insured Contingency Escrow (or ICE) Account would be yours, to do with as you see fit. Except you can only spend the money for clearly defined contingencies, such as health care, and not on a jet ski.
Now here’s where it really gets tricky. To ensure that the average American spends their health care dollars wisely, Dr. Fenwick’s plan would establish a system of navigators (sound familiar?), or copilots to guide us in doing so.
Virtual President Whittle elaborates on the role of these copilots in his presentation, where he says that they would “do the negotiating, and help you make decisions about what to do with your own money.” He points out that they “don’t work for the hospitals. They don’t work for the insurance companies. They work for you.”
Nowhere is any mention made of who would pay the “copilots,” or how much control they would have over “your money.” In fact, with this part of the plan Dr. Fenwick is contradicting himself because, as he states in his presentation “once you give people your money, you give them your power” (at 7:28) and “…it’s my money. Nobody can tell me what to do with it.” (at 30:04).
I totally agree with Dr. Fenwick when he says that we should have a health care system that operates on free-market principles, just like we use everywhere else. My problem with his idea is that he wants to replace the old system with a new but very similar one – in other words employer-driven, restrictive, and with the need for disinterested third parties to guide medical decisions.
Remember how the health insurance industry sold managed care to the politicians and the public? If you don’t, stay tuned. I’ll explain in a later post, but suffice to say Dr. Fenwick’s plan is eerily familiar.
Virtual President Whittle says the answer is not to make things more complex, but to make them simpler. Hear, hear, Sir. But substituting health insurers for a whole other layer of bureaucracy, and inserting more decision-makers (can you say, gatekeepers?) between the patient and “their money” is not at all the answer.
Why not, as Dr. Fenwick does occasionally say, let the free market reign? I would submit that when it comes to consumerism, no other animal on the planet is as ferocious as the American species. The average shopper in this country will spend four hours visiting three stores within a two-mile radius, just to find the best deal on widgets.
I have little doubt as to their ability to apply that superhuman instinct when it comes to healthcare.
After all, as patients, the ultimate consumers of health care, it is our money to spend, and I believe that we could and would do so wisely, given the chance. It’s gotta be worth a try, right?
Despite its flaws, I still love the introductory paragraph to the PeoplePower Plan, which states:
“Imagine being able to buy medical services the way you book a vacation, where you can search the web for the best destinations, check out features, benefits, ratings and prices, choose the perfect experience, then pay with a mouse-click.”
Well, what’s stopping you?
It’s not the COSTS of health care that are outrageous…it’s the CHARGES.