Thursday, November 8, 2012

GOOD LUCK SHOPPING


As the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) kicks in, tens of millions of Americans currently uninsured will be required to buy medical insurance. To meet this windfall, insurance companies are crafting hundreds of new and varied plans. If recent history is any guide, hardly any policy will be simple and straightforward.

I recently received my annual Medicare and You manual, which explains benefits and limitations, allegedly in plain language. I, with a doctorate in this business, ought to be able to understand the subject easily. But I can’t. I’ve tried for years, and still can’t.

It’s not just my fading neurons at fault. Dahlia Remler, a health economist and professor with a PhD from Harvard, wrote in the Washington Post a couple of days ago (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/facing-brain-surgery-a-health-economist-finds-the-health-care-market-hard-to-navigate/2012/11/05/0a931b5c-fcf1-11e1-b153-218509a954e1_story.html?wprss=rss_health-science) that she’s as confused a patient as anyone. She wrote, “My difficulties show how hard it is—even for someone who has studied health-care and insurance issues—to navigate the health-care marketplace, particularly when you have a serious medical condition.”

Medicare is a piece of cake compared to private policies. As a service, not a business, Medicare isn’t allowed to make a profit, while private insurance corporations are legally obliged to give their shareholders a return on their investment. So one has to wonder whether private policies’ lengthy verbiage and labyrinthine rules serve to inform or actually mislead. 

But don’t worry. Some newly formed companies will soon offer, for a fee, to guide patients through the insurance marketplace. I guess if I were an insurance company, I’d start one of these, too, and be quite careful where I referred customers to. Ah, but there I go again, into the cynical shadows.

Anyway, I packed up the Medicare manual and sent it off to a cousin in Ottawa, one of our many Canadian relatives who routinely ask us, “What exactly is wrong with you Americans?” She read the thing and got a good laugh out of it. She gets her healthcare in a national system that covers everything. It’s funded by her taxes. If she were American, she’d pay over $10,000 in premiums for partial coverage. If a Canadian-like system were in place here, she’d pay zero for premiums and about $4,000 annually in taxes for complete coverage. Seems like a no-brainer to me, but God forbid we should copy foreigners.

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