Opinion | Ted Konnerth: On kindness and health care
On September 24, the Summit Daily reported an article on two Breckenridge residents and local employees who got engaged and decided to start their new life together in Florida. Tragically, they were involved in a horrific traffic accident, which severely injured Bethany Vargas while her fiancé Anthony Aragon watched in horror from the car ahead of her. They are currently convalescing in Breckenridge until Bethany is strong enough to travel.
The Breckenridge community responded with remarkable kindness, raising over $30,000 on a GoFundMe account and $13,000 with a silent auction from Giampietro Pasta & Pizzeria. The restaurant wait staff even donated 100% of their tips for the day toward the couple’s estimated medical bills of over $400,000.
They are not working, and it will be a very long time before Bethany can return to work. The sheer thought of a $400,000 health bill is life-changing for this couple. I presume they are young, and I don’t know if they have health insurance: Restaurant workers are not universally covered by medical benefits. But if they are reporting $400,000, it implies to me that they are reviewing the bills coming in through the lens of “what you owe” on most health bills.
Lewis Black, a famous comedian, reported that he developed severe pneumonia in Ireland while on tour. He was admitted to the hospital and treated for 10 days. His health care experience was very well received, and his final bill for that stay in the hospital was $8,500. His U.S. insurance paid the majority of the $8,500. Had he had the attack in Canada or France the bill would have been free.
Unless Vargas and Aragon have significant financial resources, a hospital bill of $400,000 will render them financially impaired for decades. Despite the resounding support from the community, starting a new life with $400,000 of debt will severely limit their future ability to buy a home or even rent.
Health care in the U.S. has lost its way. I am troubled by the intrusion of an insurance adjuster overseeing the medical care and decisions of my doctor. Health care costs continue to rise as a percentage of gross domestic product, accounting for 17.7% as of the close of fiscal 2020, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Retail prescription drug spending increased 5.7% in 2019 to almost $370 billion.
Currently, we have 60 million people on Medicare, 75 million on Medicaid and 178 million on private insurance. Factions of our society consider any move to government health care as socialistic. Other factions consider health care a basic right enshrined within the Constitution to “promote the general welfare.”
Those with “Cadillac coverage“ on private insurance don’t want the government to intrude into that. Most people don’t want to be instructed to go to a different caregiver, and many employees have issues with the health plans that their employers offer: co-pays, deductibles and in versus out of network issues.
I have a thought: Let’s offer Medicare to anyone who wants it at the same basis of expense. Medicare costs range across the differing parts of the plan. Plan A is generally free, unless you’ve not paid Medicare taxes before, and it covers hospitalization up to 60 days for free. Part B is a sliding scale of expense that starts around $150 per month and goes up based on your income. Part B also covers doctor appointments with a low annual deductible.
So, let’s allow the free market to determine who wants into Medicare and who wants to stay with their Cadillac program. My guess is that most employers who incur significant expense in offering health care will migrate their plans over to Medicare, and they’ll likely offer to cover most of the Medicare premium for those who switch. For all others that don’t currently have health care coverage through an employer, Medicare becomes an affordable, efficient and thorough coverage for health care.
There are no bumper sticker campaigns required and no mandate to joining Medicare. It’s simply an option for all Americans to have affordable health care, and if you can’t afford Medicare, Medicaid is always available.
I wish the best of luck to Bethany and Anthony and congratulate them on the support they received from their Summit County family.
Ted Konnerth’s column “Centricity” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Konnerth is the founder and CEO of an executive search firm and author of a monthly newsletter for the electrical industry. He lives in Silverthorne. Contact him at email@example.com.
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