Healthcare reform is a sick joke

by Jim Longworth

Last week, President Obama signed his muchanticipated healthcare reform bill into law, and Democrats on Capitol Hill gloated and rejoiced. Former presidential advisor David Gergen called it the “most important piece of social legislation to pass since Medicare.”

Republicans, meanwhile, denounced the bill, saying it would bankrupt the nation and put us on the path to socialism. Fourteen states even filed suits to challenge the constitutionality of the new law. Not to be outdone, Sarah Palin chimed in by posting a map of the United States on her website which contained crosshair symbols that targeted certain Democratic congressmen. Accompanying the map was the slogan, “Don’t retreat. Reload.” Not surprisingly, right-wing Palinites responded with violence against elected officials who supported Obama’s bill. Coffins were place on the lawns of congressmen. Illustrations of nooses were faxed to senators and bricks were thrown through windows of congressional offices. One idiot missed his target when he cut a propane gas line at the home of a congressman’s brother. So much for Palin’s crosshairs.

But the sad truth is that the bill warrants neither celebration nor violence. For all of the hoopla, debating, lobbying and brick throwing, the healthcare reform package reforms nothing because it failed to properly crack down on insurance companies and drug manufacturers. For example, Democrats were proud that they had passed legislation that would put an end to pre-existing conditions, but they failed to set a cap on premiums. Thus, everyone will be able to get coverage, they just won’t be able to keep it. And if we drop our insurance because we can’t pay the premiums, we will be fined (as much as $695 per year). The president also bragged that his new bill would force insurance companies to pay full freight on expensive surgeries, with no caps on reimbursement. But look closer, and you’ll find that the so-called reform bill gives insurers a loophole. If you have a surgical procedure that’s going to cost, say, a halfmillion dollars, Blue Cross can simply deny your claim and pay the government a fine of $100 dollars per day instead. Even then, the fines wouldn’t take effect until 2014. And for all of the talk about making cheaper biologic drugs more readily available, Obama cut a deal with Big Pharma to allow manufacturers a full 12 years before they have to make the transition to generics. In other words, the healthcare reform bill has little to do with health and nothing to do with reform.

Here’s what the reform bill should have included:

1. Instead of state-run exchanges (which can be diluted and appealed), we need a public option run by the federal government that will help to drive down premiums by private-sector insurers. In lieu of that, a true reform bill might embrace Rep. Alan Grayson’s proposal to allow anyone at any age to enroll in Medicare.

2. Freeze health insurance premiums with a rollback to January 2009 levels. Then install a cap on premiums thereafter.

3. Eliminate caps on the amount that insurance companies will pay toward surgery and extensive hospital stays, then make sure any insurer who violates the law will pay fines equal to triple the amount of the coverage they denied.

4. Make members of Congress pay for 100 percent of their monthly health insurance premium, rather than the 29 percent they do now.

5. Allow deductibles to carry over for at least two calendar years.

6. Require the AMA to restructure their billing code system. For example, instead of charging a kidney stone patient for two CT scans (one for pelvis, one for abdomen) they would just be charged for one scan of the entire area.

7. Allow US citizens to import prescription drugs and medical devices from anywhere in the world.

In addition, my proposed legislation would also include realistic provisions for how we would pay for healthcare reform. First, we would order all troops stationed overseas to return immediately, and stop spending money on war. Second, hefty taxes would be imposed on American-based corporations who employ more than 20 percent of their workforce outside of the country. Third, stiff tariffs would be levied on all products entering the United States from US-owned plants outside the country. With these kinds of reforms in place, America would truly have the best medical system in the world, instead of the most expensive and least inclusive, which is what we have now.

Unfortunately none of these provisions were included in the reform package, and that’s particularly bad news for the 700,000 people who will go bankrupt from medical bills this year, and the 45,000 others who will die due to lack of coverage. But give the president credit for one thing: He campaigned on change, and he delivered on his promise. With one stroke of the pen, he changed a bad healthcare system into an even worse one.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).