Stolen: Reform health care and education
April 14, 2009
Affordable health care for those that are in the middle or lower income bracket ” especially those who are self-employed ” is a major problem. When I retired from Rutgers, I thought I would carry over the good health care package which included dental and optical. It was a rude awakening to find out that the COBRA plan was not transferable to Colorado. I then went on an intensive search for a reasonable health care plan. I secured a plan with a large deductible and a low premium, thinking I only needed something in case of catastrophic emergency. I soon found out that the scam was to lure you in with low monthly premiums. Every several months I would get a letter telling me that due to “circumstances,” my premium would have to go up, but it would not affect my coverage. In one year the premium went up over $100.
At the first conference on Emerging Diseases in Atlanta, I met the author Robin Cook. He has written several novels centered around the health care system and how it is strictly in the business of making money. One novel was about a health care firm that tried to do away with some chronic care patients by infecting them with disease agents because they were costing them too much money in medication and care. I asked Dr. Cook about this, and he said many of his doctor friends would not have gone into medicine knowing now what they have to go through with insurance companies. Some doctors are refusing to take insurance because they claim they have to hire someone extra just to do the paperwork. One of the top three contributors to bankruptcy filings in the U.S. is major medical costs.
The lawyers and the insurance companies force doctors into expensive malpractice insurance, which in turn reflects on what they have to charge patients. The litigation factor is so pervasive in the medical field because of irrational settlements that doctors order many unnecessary tests that add considerable costs to insurance and indirectly to all consumers of medical care. Many medical students shy away from specialties such as ob gynecology or surgery because of astronomical premiums, and many good students are becoming allergists, anesthesiologists or dermatologists with lower premiums. It is a vicious cycle indeed. In many European countries, health care is pretty much free. Yes, they pay more taxes, but they do not have to worry about losing their home if a family member gets sick.
The high cost of higher education is another problem, and because of this we are behind many other countries. Because we are behind, many technical jobs and new technological developments are going to or being done overseas. I have some friends who moved back to Switzerland so their boys could get a college education, which they didn’t think they could afford in the U.S. Education there, although competitive, is much less expensive. Their one son went through medical school. Here, families save from the time their children are born (goodness knows how their savings have fared these days) or take out loans that take years to repay or hope their kids can get some sort of scholarship. I have friends in their 30s who are still paying off their college loans. They couldn’t save and afford to buy a house until the loans were paid off. In President Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he mentioned that he and Michelle were years paying off their college loans, and a substantial amount of their salaries went to this. Many college tuitions are around $40K per year!
So if Americans were freed from the high cost of health care insurance and education they would have more disposable income to pump into the economy instead of padding the purses of the select insurance companies and lawyers. The whole economic collapse is due in large part to fraud and greed in the insurance (e.g. AIG) and financial world. I applaud the efforts of the current administration in its efforts at much needed reform in health care and education.
Dr. Joanne Stolen recently retired from Rutgers University where she taught microbiology. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution. She is now full-time resident of Breckenridge.