Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba first heard about Wendell Potter about a week ago.
In case you, like me, have been cooped up in a Petri dish and haven’t heard the news until now, Potter is the former health insurance industry executive who, one fine day in 2007, came face to face with the consequences of the policies that he had been helping to sell to We the People. He went to a “health fair” near his home town in Tennessee, and found a fair chunk of the 47 million citizens of these Untied States who do not have health insurance lined up, third-world style, to receive medical treatment from volunteer physicians working out of tents, horse stables, the street.
Two years later, presumably after having ensured himself a comfortable retirement from the proceeds of his princely insurance-executive earnings, he left the industry and is currently engaged in critiquing the firms that once thought him worth penthouse apartments and luxury seats in private jets.
Those critiques are beyond sobering. Much of the press has focused on Potter’s epiphany story. It fits nicely with the theme that the medical system in the USofA is collapsing on account of the greed of a few big, bad men.
YFNA was far more intrigued by Potter’s account of the medical loss ratio. That’s the ratio of payouts (medical claims) to earnings (premiums). That number has to be less than 1 (100%), or the outfit conducting the business is losing money and will eventually go bust. Not even the U.S. Government can afford a medical loss ratio greater than 1 for long.
According to Potter, the medical loss ratio for the health insurance industry in the early 1990s was around .95. In 2009, it’s below .80. In other words, only five cents per dollar of income was set aside for running the company and (of course) profits twenty years ago. Now, it’s twenty cents on the dollar.
Did the insurance company executives decide on their own to do this? Hell, no. This development was forced on them by people who own stocks, who would drop those stocks in a New York minute if the companies failed to squeeze every copper of profit out of their operations. Even if that means dropping coverage for people on the verge of expensive life-saving care, by any means necessary. Even if that means forcing 47 million American citizens to get their health care in horse stalls.
And who, you ask, owns these stocks that are driving the insurance companies to behave in such an immoral manner?
The people who manage your 401k. The ones you’ve likely been bitching about because they lost so much of your money in the last six months.
Yes, dear reader. It’s easy to cast blame for the mess American health care is in on the “mighty” few – when the fault actually lies with that fellow / gal you see in the mirror every morning. As usual.
Way back in September of 2006, the Dudes were forced to confront the realities of health care in these Untied States. Not much has changed …
“Ahh … s…!!”
“Expletive deleted to you too, dude. Where the hell’d you learn to sneeze like that?”
“Just tedding you how I feel, dude. Ahhh …”
“Well, think of something cleaner. You want to get us flagged?”
“I don’ staht feerling bedda soon, ain’t gon’ be kickin’ me off the web. Won’ be he’ to kick. We fin’ any doc’s yet?”
“Yeah. Now ask if we can afford any of ‘em.”
“Huh? Wha’aya mean ‘can’ afford’? Wha’s this $250 a mon’ we’re payin’ out for insudance?”
“$250 my ass. Try $325. And a 30% co-pay for everything on top of that.”
“WHAT THE F[mmmfffmmffmmmm]?!?”
“I told you to clean it up, dude! Yech. Read.”
“Can I scream?”
“In your condition? I wouldn’t recommend it. I already have enough washing up to do around here.”
“Soddy. But … ahhh .. s…!!”
“Too la’, dude. Wha’ do they thingk they’re messin’ wid? Gas prices?”
“Might as well be. It’s all about shareholders. Profit margins. Make money or else. SOS.”
“I tho’ it was abou’ health, dude! Don’ we have a right to see a doc’ when we get sick?”
“I thought maybe having your head filled up with phlegm instead of the usual empty space would make you smarter. Guess I was wrong. You got as much ‘right’ to health care in this country as you do to a mansion in Malibu. That was the way it was in the Stone Age, and that’s the way it is now. Bring cash. Or stay home.”
“Man, those doc’s mus’ be livin’ real high off all this money.”
“Sure. The ones treating Bill Gates. Or Terrell Owens. The ones treating you and me? Last one I saw spent the entire visit, all 30 seconds of it, bitchin’ and moanin’ about how hard he had to work for so little. I’m surprised he had time or energy to look at me. Hell, I’m surprised I got out alive.”
“You’ not makin’ me very happy, dude. If the doc’s ain’ gettin’ the money, who is?”
“Can you say Viagra?”
“No’ (cough, cough) now, dude. Why don’ we have national health care, like Obama wants? So we don’ have to go through this?”
“The New Zealanders, for one. They had national health care back in the 80s, but the country couldn’t figure out how to give everybody what they wanted without long waits, short service, and physicians quitting or cracking up. And the rich got tired of waiting so they set up on their own. The rich got richer and everyone else got the shaft. Sound familiar?”
“Wors’ an’ wors’, dude! Wha’s O Ceallaigh gonna do now? He’s gettin’ a bit long in the tooth, y’know.”
“Oh, he’s got it all figured out. Carries these.”
“Sax … i … tox … Wha’s tha’, dude? Wrinkle pills? Li’ botox or somethin’? OC tryi’ not to ge’ ol’?”
“Y’might say that. No, they ain’t wrinkle pills. But believe me, they’ll cure what ails him. And he won’t be asking his great-great-grandchildren to be paying his medical bills.”
“But wha’ abou’ me, dude?”
“We google ‘the flu’, dude. And hope.”
“Swine flu, dude?”
“Did … don’ do dis to me, dude!!”
– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2006, 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.