By Susan Johnson
Monday evening, Aug. 3, at least 200 people gathered at Stockholm Inn, Rockford, for a program on Real Healthcare Reform: Power to the People,
hosted by Concerned Citizens for America, a political lobbying group that describes itself as
pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and pro-fiscal responsibility.
Guest speaker was Dr. Mark Kellen, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. His educational credentials include the University of Iowa, Iowa City; Sauk Valley Hospital, Sioux Falls, S.D.; University of Chicago; and Augustana College in Sioux Falls.
For the last 10 years, Dr. Kellen has been a staff anesthesiologist and taught at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford. He is also active with Rockford Lutheran Schools Foundation.
With him was Dr. Errol C. Baptist, who, in addition to his private practice, is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford—a role for which he has been awarded the Raymond B. Allen Instructorship Award 23 times. In 1997, he received the U of I college of Medicine Distinguished Teaching Award, and in 2006 he was awarded the college’s Distinguished Service Award. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ceylon, Colombo, and received his pediatric training at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey. Dr. Baptist is a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics, and a Fellow of the American College of Pediatricians. He is widely published in medical journals and is the author of a textbook for medical students.
The Cash for Clunkers program is a perfect metaphor for health care reform,
said Dr. Kellen.
We’ve created a program which encourages people to trade in their high-mileage car for a low-mileage car. They get money; then the car must be destroyed. You have to have the car for at least two years before you trade it in. What’s happening with the Cash for Clunkers program? They put it into place rapidly, and the dealers are having trouble getting paid; the system is crashing.
This is what will happen with the health care plan. This week, we have to have more money for the program because we underestimated what it would cost. Now they say health care will only cost $1 trillion over the next 10 years. If they are right, it will be the first time in history. … We have created the program without thinking about the long-term consequences; so next year, the headlines could read: ‘Low-income families unable to afford used cars.’
Why are we having a program like Cash for Clunkers? If you’ve been responsible, what’s your reward for being a responsible person? It only goes to the irresponsible people. How often in health care do we continue to reward the irresponsible people? They just take from us. Sharing is a voluntary thing—it should not be theft. The other headline I think we will have is ‘Massive fraud.’ They’ve taken all these cars, and there probably won’t be enough smash sites to crush all the cars. They’ll say, ‘just ship them overseas.’ Cars will not actually be destroyed and may be shipped overseas. Every step of the way, you read about Cash for Clunkers, it is a perfect metaphor for health care.
The Massachusetts experiment
Massachusetts instituted a program in 2007, which is serving as a model for the national program Obama wants. Regulations and bureaucracy are limiting consumer choices and raising costs. They are about 25 percent over what they anticipated in two years. They are talking about caps on insurance premiums and reimbursements. Because they did add a few people into the pool without adding more doctors, it is creating waiting time for services. It took effect July 1, 2007, and incorporates mandatory individual health insurance in which employers could provide insurance or pay a $295 fee per employee.
They established a commonwealth connecter—the insurance exchange. This was supposed to bring people and insurance companies together in a protected environment. Every proposal I see wants to link your health insurance to your employer. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve seen because when you get really sick, you can’t work. If it’s linked to your employer, you’re stuck. COBRA coverage shows you the true amount being paid on your behalf to your insurance company. You don’t see the whole amount you could be controlling. They have only sold 18,000 policies in the last two years. Last year, their goal was universal coverage. But just because you have a slip of paper saying you have insurance doesn’t mean you have medical care. This was [the subject of] a Supreme Court case in Canada, and they ruled on it.
What did the Massachusetts experiment prove?
“1) It did not achieve universal coverage. But the number of people who said they had foregone medical care because they couldn’t get to a doctor went up.
“2) The wait to see a doctor went from 33 to 52 days. Eventually, they said you couldn’t do it. It has not controlled the costs. In Massachusetts, a policy for a family of four costs $16,897 versus $12,700 nationally. That’s 25 percent over projection. It did not spread the risk—the price keeps going up.
They thought the ER business would go down. That didn’t work, either. In Rockford Memorial Hospital’s ER, the vast majority of people already have Medicare or Medicaid. Doctors are so tightly packed, they can’t squeeze you in, and they send you to the ER. It’s a law that you have to treat everyone who shows up. The budget is going out of control.
This is not the only state that experimented with [the program]. Maine did so. They just about bankrupted the state. Tennessee had TennCare. The price of insurance kept on skyrocketing, and they had to cancel the program. They created this program which had hundreds of thousands of people in it, and realized it was going bankrupt. Another one in Hawaii was KeikoCare. They ran it for six months and almost bankrupted the state, so they had to cancel it; everybody dropped their private insurance and went on the state plan.
There is no security in giving away your freedom. The only way to have security is to have control. In this country, we send money to the insurance company and the government; you don’t want either one to control business because they’re both bad. If the insurance company says no, you still might have a chance [elsewhere]; if the government says no, you’re out of luck.
Questions from the audience
Q: What happens to young people who are not covered by insurance?
By law, they have to pay it. If you’re 22 and want to buy one of these Cadillac-type policies, you’re not likely to need it.
A woman in the audience said that if you need care and go outside of Massachusetts to get it, you could be charged with a felony. You and the doctor can be arrested.
Dr. Kellen replied that that is actually Medicare law. There is not much of a [waiting] line [for service] in this country, but let’s say there was. A doctor may not charge more than the Medicare amount, or it is a jailable offense. Also, if a fee is waived, because of the price control system, if you waive the co-payment, the doctor could go to jail.
One man thought the
large deductibles could be combined with a savings account, and then you end up having no deductible. You get some form of rationing in a way. Before I dig into the $5,000 of my own money, I will demand this treatment.
One woman asked what was the difference between the Medicare system they have now and the system they want to put into effect?
There isn’t much difference; both are bad. When Obama was in the Senate, he always said he was in favor of a single-payer system.
To be continued …
From the September 2-8, 2009 issue