By Jack E. Lohman
COMMENTARY | July 16, 2007
Health care is looming as a major issue in the 2008 elections, but a root cause of soaring health care costs is being ignored both by the public and the press, at least until now. I’m referring to a very conflicted system of political campaign financing.
Think about it. Had the insurance industry not been a major contributor, we’d have fixed our health care system years ago. Its biggest single problem is the huge portion of total health care costs — about 31 percent, according to a group called Physicians for a National Health Program and others — that are consumed by the insurance and billing bureaucracy without ever providing direct patient care. Costs for marketing, broker sales commissions, actuarial costs, gatekeepers, high executive salaries, increasing shareholder profits, even the high costs of their lobbying and campaign contributions are passed on to the patient (and in most cases employers, who have been taking their jobs offshore to avoid the costs).
Eliminate that waste and we could expand health care coverage to 100 percent of our people for the same dollars we spend to cover just 85 percent today.
But that means eliminating the very profitable yet wasteful insurance component, and the insurance industry will have nothing of that. So its executives are sending big cash dollars to the very state and federal politicians that can block or approve progress. They are bribing my representatives and yours to guard their own profits.
The media must not allow this process to go unchecked. When there is a political fight, it’s usually because money is involved on one side or the other. And when it affects the public, that side generally has a lot of citizen volunteers with little cash fighting a goliath industry with lots of cash going to the politicians that pass the laws. The public’s only equalizer is the press, and it too often ignores the driving force: money.
Politicians get offended when they hear charges of corruption. They seem to think they can continue representing “us” while receiving money from “them.” Robert Kennedy, Jr., calls it political treason, and he’s not far off base.
As a former CEO, had I allowed my employees to accept money from vendors while giving away company assets, my company would have crashed and my employees put out of jobs. So how can our state and nation survive under this same kind of corruption?
It can’t, and it is only a matter of time before Americans begin migrating to other countries to escape it. We are in a slow-motion spiral downward. Jobs are being outsourced daily and Americans will eventually follow them. We cannot survive as a consumer-only nation.
Health care is just one of many issues that are robbing our population of its resources. Whatever your issue — energy, environment, high taxes or whatever — follow the money and you’ll find politicians at the other end with their hands out, all while claiming a purity we could only hope for.
The only reasonable solution is to have the electoral system financed by the people the politicians should be beholden to, the taxpayers. Private interests are currently funding our public electoral system, the last place you would expect privatization and the free market to exist.
Full public funding of political campaigns, like the system promoted by Public Campaign and Wisconsin Clean Elections Coalition, would cost $10 per taxpayer per year at the federal level and would eliminate the $300 billion per year the Feds give away to the special interests that currently fund the elections. Subsidies, tax breaks, no bid contracts and local pork are all on the long list of government handouts. If we paid a hundred times the $10 per taxpayer, it would be a bargain.
For the system to be constitutional it must be optional, thus politicians can opt in or opt out of the public system. Those opting in would receive a sufficient amount of money to run a credible campaign. Those opting for private cash should be allowed to prostitute themselves to the fullest extent possible; but with full disclosure of their money source.
Then let the voters decide whom they want representing them. In the states that have adopted this system, Arizona and Maine, the voters have selected the public candidate for over 65 percent of their elected seats.
The Democrats have promised reform, but it apparently is not high on their list. They must now deliver. And if they don’t it is up to the voters to oust those in 2008 who fail to fix the system. And that includes the candidates in both parties who oppose reform. We must give our democracy back to the people.
Jack Lohman, a free-lance writer, is a retired business owner in Wisconsin with 35 years in the health care industry.