Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Profit-driven health insurance is immoral

Having served up a heaping helping of economic stimulus, we're now told that next up on the Obama administration's agenda is healthcare.

Or at least, the start of a health care reform process. Yesterday, I got an e-mail from asking me to go sign a petition asking Obama to pick a progressive health care reform advocate to run this process. I gather that felt this was necessary because, at an early meeting of health care wonks, there were no advocates of single-payer systems on the list of invitees.

Now, I'm as much of a capitalist as anybody. I work for a private company. I have my own startup business on the side. I have always envisioned someday making it big on my own, just like the classic American dream portrays.

So don't get me wrong. Markets have a very valid place in a free society. We don't favor broad nationalization of the economy. The Soviet Union tried it, with dismal results. We ought not go there.

But a fair market is not, and should not be, unregulated.

Therein lies the difference between our view of capitalism and the view that seems to be espoused by the insurance industry.

We believe that a free society cannot tolerate an unregulated market if that market has no moral center - that is, if the market's participants do not have an appropriate regard for the legitimate needs of their fellow citizens.

Markets and a free society can work very well together, if the market is constructed for the broadest possible prosperity. But an unregulated market can only lead to a society with no rules and no moral compass, as private interests work to undermine the nation's foundation of laws to advance their own narrow interests.

Despite the romantic notions of Hollywood, America's nearest historical example of a anything goes society - the lawless "Wild West," with its gun-toting outlaws, rustlers, claim jumpers, cattle- and railroad robber-barons, crooked marshals and all the rest - is certainly not something any of us wants to return to.

So markets must also be moral. However, we believe there are some segments of a moral economy which are fundamentally incompatible with the desire for profit. Segments which should, on moral grounds, be off limits to capitalism. Healthcare is one of them.

The profit motive has its place in the world.

But when profit governs healthcare, the greed of private corporations and their boards of directors inevitably leads to the intolerable circumstance of murder by spreadsheet, in which the legitimate health care needs of Americans are not met because profit-driven insurance companies refuse to pay for them.

As Eve put it the other day, the insurance industry's motto seems to be "take your money, deny your claim."

It's a great soulless business model. But it sure isn't moral.

The private insurance industry has had decades now to figure out what they want to be. To figure out how they want to operate.

To determine the principles which govern their actions.

They have uniformly shown us that what they want to be is greedy. That how they want to operate is, not to mince words, fraudulently. That the principles they have selected to govern their actions place profit above people.

They've had their chance. They have failed. Their time is past.

Everyone knows this. Everyone who has ever worried over the possibility of losing their house and life's savings should catastrophic illness or injury strike, knows this. Everyone to whom this has already happened, surely knows this.

So stick a fork in 'em, they're done.

America desperately needs a moral alternative to the ruthlessly amoral murder-by-spreadsheet insurance industry.

That alternative is clear. It's a single-payer system, wherein the government guarantees payments for medical services, and where everyone chips in their fair share for coverage. It's a system where doctors and patients determine the best courses of medical treatment, and bean-counters don't get to say no.

Everyone knows this, too.

Of course the private insurance industry will object.

They will go kicking and screaming to their graves rather than willingly allow a single-payer system to come into being.

This should surprise no one, because it is tantamount to telling those corporations that their immoral business model has no proper place in our free society.

And it doesn't. Their tactics are quite literally killing us.

We urge the Obama administration, in the strongest possible terms, to move America as quickly as possible to the single payer model that so many of the world's civilized nations already use to great effect.


Blogger Martha Koester said...

Just put health care into the category of public goods, like roads, schools and the fire department. A heart attack is like a house fire, not an iPod.

Most people will never get expensively sick, just as most will never have fires. Basic moral standards require that everyone should pay the cost of health care and supporting the fire department because even though expensive mishaps are not likely for everyone, they could be experienced by anyone.

March 4, 2009 2:28 PM  
Blogger Jason Black said...

Indeed! For the sake of space, I didn't include a digression into how this is yet another example of how making something part of the common wealth means that everybody can get more, for less.

It's just like with roads, where nobody can afford to build for themselves the roads they need to get where they want to go, but by each of us putting a relatively paltry sum into the common wealth through appropriate taxes or fees, suddenly everybody can have the roads they need to go everywhere. It's a benefit for all which hugely outweighs the miniscule sum that each individual contributes.

A single payer plan would be exactly the same. We all chip in a little bit for coverage. Those who are young and healthy probably won't use as much service as the money they're putting in, but they'll have the valuable peace of mind to know that they're still covered if they get in a car wreck or something. Those of us who are older and starting to break down may use more service than the money we're putting in, but we can still get the care we need without having to make faustian choices between paying the rent or the electric bill vs. buying medications.

March 5, 2009 9:50 AM  
Blogger Larry Renfroe said...

Wonderful comments. Try having multiple sclerosis as a preexisting condition and see how many for profits will even talk to you about coverage for your $30,000 annual drug costs. We are all one heartbeat away from illness or accident on a totally random basis. Why can"t we try to protect all, just as we do with police, national defense,
and car safety rules?

Larry Renfroe Christiansburg Virginia

May 22, 2009 4:32 AM  

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