By Gabriel Komjathy, M.D.
Recently UnitedHealth Group replaced Kraft Foods as one of the stocks on the prestigious Dow Jones Industrial index.
UnitedHealth is the first health care stock to be so “honored.” The reason cited: the health care sector now comprises one-sixth of our economy. That figure is more than double that of other developed industrial nations.
Wall Street must be satisfied as their investors continue to reap heavy profits off of people’s illnesses. It proves to me that the initial outcry by private health insurers against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was feigned. Most of the provisions in the ACA offer further advantages for the corporate health care industry.
For one, 20 million new customers will be enrolled into various privately run insurance plans. The premiums for many of these folks will be heavily subsidized by taxes paid by you and me. Yet there will be virtually no restrictions on premium increases, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.
No wonder Wall Street is smiling.
Our privately based corporate health care system will continue to degrade the dignity and take advantage of our most vulnerable citizens.
During the economic turndown of 2008-9, health care stocks were among the few that were not adversely affected. This aberration was due to two factors.
For one, illness continues during recessions. It is not a product or commodity you can “cut back” on.
Second, many people are forced to cut back on discretionary spending during hard times. In order to avoid co-pays, many people skipped important preventive and routine visits to their health professional. Non-urgent health care concerns were ignored. Meanwhile, insurance companies continued to collect the rising health insurance premiums.
As a physician who has practiced in the U.S. and Canada for 32 years, I can tell you that preventive and routine visits often play a crucial role in the continuity of care. The early manifestations of many serious illnesses, including cancer, are often detected on slight abnormities seen on routine tests such as blood counts and urinalysis. These tests should not be neglected because of avoiding a $25 co-pay – but they often are, and understandably so. These are hard times.
The overall result of this dynamic is the achievement of a “healthier bottom line” for the medical insurance companies at the expense of the health of the population.
Examine your own situation or that of that of a loved one, and consider what would happen if either of you became seriously ill. Medical bankruptcy is just one injury or illness away for millions of Americans.
The conclusion is that in providing health care coverage, corporate America has failed to deliver. The costs of coverage are rising at a much higher rate than that of other services and there continues to be no true controls over them. Our health system is cumbersome, inefficient and has not improved the overall health of our nation.
The new health law will regrettably not change this picture very much.
Our country needs a standardized, universal and single-payer health care system. It need not be necessarily run by the government, but be strictly controlled by a federal agency.
However, private insurance companies, whose primary concern is their bottom line, should no longer run the show.
The well-being of our bodies, minds and economy depend on forming a fair and efficient health care system. All of us should have a stake in it, not just an exclusive elite minority of private stockholders.
Let’s not allow the calamity of Wall Street dictate the fate of our own personal health like it did with our “net worth.” We must act soon.
On behalf of the thousands of people that I have had the privilege to help over the years, I have a request.
I urge everyone to contact their legislators, regardless of political party, on both the state and federal levels. Urge them to overcome the meddlesome influence of lobbyists and demand, on your behalf, a meaningful and complete overhaul of our health care system.
Dr. Gabriel Komjathy practices urology in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He is a member of the Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.
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