Guest Column: Rep. Manzullo’s proposed health care reforms: will they benefit the few or the many?

minefield-WBy Dan Kenney

In the whirlwind of the health care brouhaha, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) paused to issue a press release detailing his recommendations. Much of the release details the problems he views with the Democratic health plan. It is important to note The Washington Post revealed that the Lewin Group, which is commonly cited by Republican lawmakers as an
independent, nonpartisan

think tank, is actually owned by UnitedHealth, one of the country’s largest health insurance companies. To give you an idea of how large UnitedHealth is, according to their July 21, 2009, press release, the company revenues for the second quarter were $21.7 billion, an increase of 7 percent.

Mr. Manzullo also offered
several health care reform initiatives that would make health care coverage more affordable and more accessible to Americans.

However, he is not clear if his proposals will provide a path to insure all Americans.

The first reform Mr. Manzullo proposes is
Reforming our out-of-control medical liability system.

He points out that it is doctors fleeing malpractice insurance that is driving up medical costs. However, several studies have proven that malpractice litigation’s share of overall health costs is less than 0.6 percent. The actual medical malpractice payments have fallen to less than 0.2 percent of all health costs, an all-time low. He did not provide any figures that would show how much this reform would save in neither health costs nor how much it would actually save the average taxpayer.

It is a fact that private malpractice insurance is costing doctors an “arm and a leg.

Take, for example, the average neurosurgeon in Miami pays more than $200,000 per year for malpractice insurance while his counterpart in Montreal, Canada, pays $20,600, or a neurosurgeon in Vancouver pays only $10,650. It would seem that if private malpractice insurance in the U.S. is forcing our good doctors across the border, perhaps Rep. Manzullo should be introducing legislation that would allow doctors to form a nonprofit medical protective association like they have in Canada.

However, to introduce such a bill may be uncomfortable for him because Rep. Manzullo has received more than $110,000 in campaign contributions from insurance companies that collect these very high malpractice premiums. Also, if you include the nearly $170,000 he has received from the health professionals, we find that Mr. Manzullo has accepted around $280,000 in the last three years, from those who profit most from high health costs.

Mr. Manzullo
supports funding our community health clinics.

The Crusader Community Health Clinic has seen an increase of 45 percent in need, when comparing March of 2008 with March 2009. They also report more than 600 new patients each month since these difficult economic times have hit the Rock River area. Rep. Manzullo did not say if he supported an increase in federal funding for community health clinics, nor did he cite a dollar amount for this reform.

The representative also put forth the expansion of tax-free Health Savings Accounts. He even suggested that Congress should increase the tax deductibility for these insurance plans. However, these plans are not as they appear. The plans have been criticized for actually being a tax shelter disguised as health insurance. They are funded with discretionary cash and because of the high deductible insurance required for eligibility, many people are excluded.

Another reform he recommended is for the creation of Association Health Plans for small businesses to pool together through national associations. He is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan SHOP Act (H.R. 2360). However, the AHP plan actually would make it easier for insurance companies to select healthy enrollees. Insurers could target groups of small employers with younger and healthier workers, leaving small businesses with less healthy workers behind in the traditional private insurance market with higher premiums. This is a plan that has potential to be formed in such a way as to fill a gap that needs to be filled. However, as it is written, it may actually leave more uninsured.

He also suggests expanding small business tax deductions for health care expense. Mr. Manzullo co-sponsors the Equity for Our Nation’s Self-Employed Act (H.R. 1470) to allow self-employed to purchase health care insurance prior to paying Social Security and Medicare taxes. This would, according to his press statement, reduce their health care costs immediately by more than 15 percent. However, he did not state how much these deductions would cost taxpayers nor if the deduction would be enough to allow the majority of the self-employed to afford private health insurance, given the current high premiums. The question about affordability would still be there for those with pre-existing conditions.

Rep. Manzullo is to be applauded for informing folks in his district about where he stands on this issue vital to our country. However, for those who are not employed, nor self-employed; for the average taxpaying citizen, it is clear that he is shifting the burden from the insurers and businesses, who are giving him large campaign contributions, to the shoulders of working people. His plan seems to be to continue increasing  the 600-plus per month signing up for medical care at a community clinic.

This whole health care debate reminds me of a college textbook, How to Lie With Statistics. One can be misleading by withholding information or providing selective information. It also reminds me of a story shared by Wendell Potter; he was once the head of corporate communications at the insurance giant CIGNA. He tells about how CIGNA would search for ways to deny claims even in life-and-death situations. He also visited a one-day free clinic at fairgrounds in Virginia, where people would stand in lines for hours in the rain to get the health care, because they had no choice. Then, he realized while on a flight on the company jet, while eating his lunch from a gold-rimmed plate with gold-plated silverware, that it was all being paid for with premiums from even the folks who may eventually be denied coverage when they most need it.

It is hoped when Rep. Manzullo returns to Washington in September, he will be willing to stand up for all the people of his district, so that no one is left out standing in the rain or snow waiting for health care.

Dan Kenney is a school teacher who lives in DeKalb.

From the September 9-15, 2009 issue

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