All health care is socialism

You can’t treat it as a supply-and-demand economy; nobody ever chooses to get sick.

 

'Asta Bowen is contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is an author and teacher from northwest Montana, and former columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.


These days, summer camp is not just for kids. We adults can spend a few days in some forest glen learning to play the dulcimer, or even join an “intentional community” and try for two weeks to get along with perfect strangers.

In that spirit, here is a quick summer camp on a topic most of us avoid like the plague, when we’re not complaining bitterly about it: health insurance.

A prudent consumer will surely check the camp counselor’s credentials, so here are mine: I have had my bouts with the health-care system, one of which ended when the neurologist diagnosed my condition as “a mystery wrapped in an enigma.” I also served for many years on an employee health-insurance committee, working with a multimillion dollar plan.

On that committee I got to take heat from colleagues when our plan didn’t perform as expected, and to anguish over changes that inevitably advantaged some members and disadvantaged others. In short: Congress, I feel your pain. I understand your gridlock. Campers ready? To help us move this thing forward, here’s everything I’ve learned about health insurance.

People turn out to support healthcare at a Medicare for All rally in Los Angeles this June.

First, as an individual or family, don’t expect to “make good” on insurance. If you are lucky, you will pay more — perhaps much more — in premiums than you will ever receive in benefits. How is this lucky? Because if you pay more than you claim, it means you are relatively healthy. And anyone who has been on the other side of this equation can tell you that having good health, not just a surplus at the end of the spreadsheet, is hitting pay dirt.

Next, all insurance is socialism. I apologize if that ruins your appetite, but it’s a collective, plain and simple. Auto, boat, home, pet, liability, you name it: everyone’s premiums go to pay for everyone’s troubles. If it seems unfair to give while someone else gets, pretend you’re on an installment plan, covering your family’s troubles over a lifetime instead of someone else's troubles now.

Private insurance, whether from our employers or the Obamacare exchanges, is a special equation involving socialism plus the cost of doing business, plus a fee we pay to make other people richer, otherwise known as profit. Single-payer insurance, as practiced in Canada and much of Europe, is socialism plus the cost of doing business plus dag-blasted guvment inefficiency. Would you like to be on a waiting list for major surgery you need right now? Pick your poison.

But premiums went up, you say, under the Affordable Care Act. True; how many costs have not? And consider this possibility: Because the exchanges run as a kind of free market, is there any chance that insurers lowballed their initial rates in order to attract customers? Is there any chance that the first to sign up were the long-uninsured in our midst, those with pre-existing conditions who couldn’t get coverage for love or money, and then showed up with a lot of unmet, urgent and expensive needs? While younger and healthier citizens could skip insurance altogether by paying a yearly sum of $695 if they played by the rules, and zero if they didn’t get caught? Premiums went up, a lot, and the only surprise is that anyone is surprised.

Finally, a Republican I know has this observation about health care: You can’t treat it as a supply-and-demand economy, because nobody ever chooses to get sick. We Americans like to think that our choices drive our fate, but too often the truck just hits out of nowhere and you’re sacked with enough bills to ruin what’s left of your life.

This is the reason for the dreaded “mandate.” You showed up with a physical body, and at some point you will likely need help with it. If we can agree on a system to help each other through the inevitable bad times, it reduces the uncertainties that can worry us half to death.

Congress may be unable to agree, but here is what we all want from health insurance: the promise of medical care for ourselves and our loved ones, without the risk of financial ruin. Some of us like the profit model, others want single-payer; any change in the system means a change in winners and losers. It’s a little like summer camp, actually, where the older kids get the cool cabins and the newbies get hazed. At camp, though, we try to put aside our differences for the benefit of the group — at least for the time we are together. 

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.