Column: One idea for health care

01/14/2017 6:00 AM |

Obamacare kind of stinks.

Now, now, hear me out. I’m your everyday Prius-driving, backyard-composting, bleeding-heart member of the liberal media — but I think I’ve found one issue where I can agree with the GOP.

First, I want to share how much my healthy family of four paid for health care in 2016. It’s an issue not often discussed in polite conversation, so I’d like to offer a snapshot into the situation of one hardworking middle-class family (herein referred to as HWMCFs).

You ready?

We paid just under $15,000 in premiums and out-of-pocket costs in 2016. That’s in addition to thousands of dollars in contributions from our employer.

And what did my family receive for what is the equivalent price of a brand-new compact car? Well, I delivered a healthy baby girl in May, and that certainly would have carried a sticker price greater than $15K without insurance. But we will essentially dole out the same amount in 2017, even without having to pay for a birth or prenatal care.

Other than that, we had checkups and vaccinations and a few bouts with pink eye. My son also suffered a minor burn to his hand after touching a light bulb.

That’s it.

The Affordable Care Act has done little to protect HWMCFs from soaring out-of-pocket costs and rising deductibles. In a sense, it has raised “taxes” because people are mandated to either opt in or pay a fine.

The GOP has promised to repeal the ACA, but what will come in its place isn’t totally clear.

One solution being floated by House Republicans is Health Savings Accounts. This is something we already have, although contributions are capped at $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for a family.

The maximum out-of-pocket cost on our family plan is $12,000, nearly double the amount we can put away before taxes. That’s money still coming out of our paychecks and it’s not enough to cover all of our potential bills.

In reality, how many HWMCFs could sock away $12,000 in a year “just in case?” Something doesn’t seem right.

Where exactly have the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve contributed to various health insurance companies in my adult life gone? Why do I have to pay so much on top of my premium payments before I receive meaningful coverage?

Let’s examine how my 2016 insurer’s parent company, UnitedHealth Group, fared last year. Well, for one, third quarter profits were up. And net earnings grew 23 percent year over year to $2.17 per share, according to the Minnesota-based company.

So awesome for their shareholders!

There’s also the fact that health care CEOs frequently have the highest median pay of any profession. That in and of itself doesn’t mean much for clients’ fees, but the fact that these executives make it rain for shareholders does.

One way UnitedHealth Group was able to raise profits was by pulling out of the health care marketplace in all but “a handful” of states, the company’s CEO told investors. The company lost an estimated $1 billion in 2015 and 2016 due to the cost of offering plans on the exchange, according to The New York Times. Providing health care to people who have no other way to get it, a higher-risk population, was ultimately too expensive.

Still, UnitedHealth Group was able to turn a $3.6 billion (that’s billion with a b) operating profit in the third quarter of 2016 alone.

I guess a health insurance company can still offer plans on the exchange and make money. They just don’t like to.

It looks like insurance companies don’t like Obamacare. And HWMCFs don’t like it either. Does any one else have any other ideas?

I’ve got one.

If I am going to shell out thousands of dollars of year and get so little in return, then I hope my money can at least guarantee others get the care that they need.

What if I and all the other HWMCFs (and single people, and upper-class folks and so on) got together and put all of our health care contributions in one pot? And the agency overseeing that pot was limited in how much it could pay the boss and there was no marketing budget? Another thing? No shareholders.

We have a similar system in place to provide education to children, and one for law enforcement. In fact, the Justice Department announced in August that it will eventually end its reliance on for-profit prisons because the private sector doesn’t do as good a job as bureau-run facilities. Maybe we could do something like that for health care? I heard the citizens of Canada, the United Kingdom and France use something like that.

Just a thought.

Vera ChineseThe writer is the editor of northforker.com. She can be reached at [email protected].

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