For the past few years we have been shocked and dismayed by the proliferation of greed, incompetence, dishonesty, deceit and downright criminal activities of many of the most powerful business leaders and iconic institutions in America. The amount of damage done to the very core of our economic system, the hard-earned money lost, futures darkened and lives ravaged, is almost unfathomable. We have a right to feel duped, betrayed and angry to the point of vengefulness even though such feelings do little, by themselves, to rectify this unethical madness.
As unscrupulous as these activities have been, however, they pale by comparison to the attitude and activities of the companies in the health insurance industry.
For the past 70 years, the health insurance industry has enjoyed and profited from a virtual monopoly to provide health care protection for Americans. The companies in the health insurance industry have flagrantly abused this power and in so doing, they have eroded the very quality of our lives. If it is dishonest to steal our money, how much more morally criminal is it to steal our right to a quality of life?
The Crime is Not a New One
Unburdened by real competition within the health care system and left to the devices of their woeful ethics, health insurance companies have colluded to ration health care by deciding who can receive coverage, how much is provided and at what cost. The only way to receive health care coverage has been to play by the rules established by the health insurance companies. As a result, most Americans receive inferior, high-cost coverage and 50 million Americans have been excluded from receiving any health care benefits whatsoever.
Frankly, it amazes me that there is not more outrage expressed at this flawed system of providing one of the most basic of individual rights. Imagine our indignation if the only option for the education of our children was to receive it from private, profit-driven schools that had the power to determine who could be educated, how much education they could receive and at a price determined by the school. How burned would we be if firefighting services were provided only by private companies who could unilaterally pick and choose the homes or businesses they would protect, how diligently they would slake the flames or how much of a fee they would charge?
It is not that the deficiencies of the current health care system go unrecognized. For decades, presidents and other enlightened leaders – both Democrat and Republican – have sought and failed to correct the problem. Why? The reason is simple. The embedded power, money, duplicity, deceit and absence of ethics in the health insurance industry allowed them to euthanize any real effort at health care reform.
And, who could blame them? If you had a perfect monopoly providing a basic, needed service to consumers, no doubt you too would fight tooth-and-nail to keep this cash-cow leverage over your customers. But might does not make right.
Another Fine Mess
The latest example of the power of the health insurance industry came to light this past week in an article written by Drew Armstrong for Bloomberg News. It highlights the dishonest and devious actions they will take to protect their monopoly to determine what type of health care (if any) that Americans receive.
Armstrong wrote, “Health insurers last year gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million that was used to oppose the health care overhaul law …” The funds were given to the Chamber of Commerce because current laws do not require the Chamber to identify the source of its funds.
As Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics said, “Clearly, the secrecy was important to [the health insurance] industry. Eighty-six million dollars is an astonishing sum.” Trevor Potter, head of political activity at the Washington law firm of Caplin & Drysdale put the contribution in perspective by succinctly calling it “breathtaking.”
Certainly the health insurance industry has the right to lobby for their considered best interests, but the duplicity they exhibited in the way they went about this activity makes it stunningly deplorable.
You see, at the same time the health insurance industry was contributing $86 million dollars to confuse, misrepresent and defeat health care reform, they were sitting at the negotiating table with President Obama feigning a desire to play a positive role in reform efforts as this David Horsey cartoon fiendishly points out.
In explaining the double-cross actions of the health insurance industry the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission said, “It is a way to have it both ways.”
The result was a mishmash of a bill that confused rather than enlightened and most egregiously, failed to resolve the health care crisis. Only the health care industry was pleased because it left their monopoly intact and actually allowed them to charge policyholders more for less.
And, of course, the health insurance industry sees nothing wrong with this – they are so morally corrupt they wouldn’t – since they believe it is their right to protect their monopoly to determine the amount, quality and cost of health care Americans receive.
It is not that private health insurance companies should be excluded from playing a role in providing health care to Americans, but they should not benefit from a monopoly on these services. They should be forced to compete against each other, not with each other to keep real competition out. By definition a monopoly eliminates options, reduces the quality of product and services and increases costs.
The irony is that our government – starting with Teddy Roosevelt and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 – has a history of aggressive anti-trust actions. Steel, oil, transportation, communications and many other industries have been subject to strict anti-trust controls. AT&T, IBM and Microsoft are but a few more contemporary examples of companies that have felt the sting of anti-trust actions. And, these were companies offering goods and services, not the very right to life. And yet, the health insurance companies – offering much more critical services – continue blithely on their way, free to exploit their collective monopoly on the health care Americans receive.
Single-provider government health care may not be “the” answer, but the crisis in health care will never be resolved until the monopoly of the health insurance companies is busted. Only by creating real – not feigned – competition designed to provide the consumer with real options, will the health insurance companies be forced to respond with effective, reasonably priced health care benefits. There is no doubt the health insurance companies could do this, but why should they? They have a monopoly and they want to keep it that way and no one seems to have the courage or power to stop them.
And the Moral of the Story …
The health insurance companies have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted with the monopoly they have over the quality of the life and health we live. Their interests run directly counter – no parallel interests here – to the right of all Americans to receive basic health care.
Unfortunately, the power, money and influence accumulated by the health insurance industry, combined with the moral dishonesty of its leaders, has allowed the industry to insulate itself from true competition.
But if we as Americans don’t care about this, then we have no standing to gripe about the health care – or lack of it – that we receive. In the words of statesman Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”