The House's repeal of the health care overhaul this week has been deemed largely symbolic since the Senate won't deal with it. While members of Congress may feel a sense of obligation toward the constituents who voted them in office, the problem is that politicians and Americans are operating under false assumptions. They believe the lies that have been disseminated by nefarious forces.
The main culprit: insurance industry giants inspired by greed that go to great lengths to conduct deception-based campaigns while presenting a completely different, cooperative facade to the public. Their methods are exposed in Wendell Potter's book, "Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans."
Potter worked as a spinmeister for the insurance industry for two decades, so he's intimately familiar with its machinations. The book is an act of contrition. It is well-documented, filled with compelling data to support his contentions. It should be required reading for every American.
About health reform, Potter writes: "Health insurers and other special interests opened their pocketbooks to frustrate reform and protect huge profit streams. Political front groups flourished, nurtured with millions of dollars from shadowy corporate sponsors, including insurers. Powerful images and words were unleashed. Anti-reform operatives concocted myths, libeled Democratic leaders, used racist slogans and pictures, and questioned the patriotism of people supporting a just health care system. Fox News eagerly broadcast these antics and messages -- morning, noon and night. And perhaps most important, the health insurance industry showered members of Congress with political contributions -- and overwhelmed them with thousands of lobbyists to push its propaganda."
No wonder people are unhappy with the final product -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA. While it's better than nothing, it does little to curb insurance costs because profits are the No. 1 objective of publicly traded companies, health insurers included.
Just yesterday The Wall Street Journal reported that fourth-quarter profits for health insurers look solid. "Researchers at Goldman Sachs Group estimate that the top four publicly traded plans will show earnings increases averaging 21 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 compared to the year-earlier period," writes Avery Johnson. This, despite the benefit expansions already in force, such as preventive care and no lifetime limits on policies.
Meanwhile, Plansponsor.com reports that the cost of health insurance provided by employers is expected to rise by nearly 12 percent this year in North America, according to a Towers Watson survey.
See a connection?
Hey, I'm a red-blooded capitalist like everyone else, but health and profits fit together like the North and South poles.
Insurers' need to keep stock shares rising is the reason they bamboozled Americans, politicians and the press into believing that a government option would be detrimental to us all. "Insurers worried -- and rightfully so -- that they would fail to compete against the superior provider networks, lower overhead, and lower premiums of a public option," writes Potter. "And a government-operated plan wouldn't concern itself with surging insurance company profits and obscene executive pay, focusing instead on processing claims efficiently and setting reasonable rules on what services were covered."
Employee health benefits
Detractors of PPACA say the regulations will erode employer benefit plans. But in life and death matters, when expensive treatments are called for, health insurers in these plans can deny benefits and not be held accountable. It turns out that ERISA, that massive legislation that helps protect pension benefits for workers, does not really protect employees -- or their dependents -- who may need an organ transplant, for example. Read the account of Nataline Sarkisyan in Potter's book for details.
ERISA also doesn't protect workers who have been promised health insurance benefits at retirement. An employer can just decide one year not to offer them anymore.
"There have been suits brought by retirees or retiree groups when those benefits have been changed or eliminated, but mostly those don't seem to get very far," says Nevin Adams, an attorney and editor in chief of Plansponsor.com. "Your health care coverage doesn't 'vest' in the same way that, say, a pension benefit would."
Recently 3M Co. announced it would stop offering a health plan to retirees, blaming the new health reform law as a factor in its decision.
Good, affordable health care enhances financial security, and financial security is the foundation of retirement planning. Congress needs to see through the haze of lies and get to the heart of the matter.
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