By Phil Kadner
Chicago Sun-Times, May 9, 2017
Will someone please tell me what evidence exists that a free market benefits consumers in this country when it comes to health insurance? Would anyone even argue that market demand ought to determine how much a person pays when it comes to saving the life of a baby?
The average working stiff has little choice when it comes to health insurance. If you are lucky enough to have an employer who provides insurance as a benefit, that’s what you’re stuck with because going into the free market (before Obamacare) meant you were going to have to pay a king’s ransom on private insurance premiums.
Millions of Americans, of course, had no health insurance prior to Obamacare.
That’s because many of them had pre-existing conditions, which included cancer, diabetes, mental health problems, heart conditions, kidney disease and many more.
Obamacare, for the first time, required that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions. That is a government regulation that offends many conservative Republicans because it interferes with the free market.
Most Americans, however, realize that given the freedom to deny coverage to sick people, insurance companies would do exactly that.
If you’re in business to make a profit, you do not want to cover people who are going to cost your company a lot of money. You would prefer to customers who are young and healthy. These are people considered low-risk individuals who still pay pretty stiff premiums to protect themselves against that day they get a serious illness, or suffer a terrible injury.
That’s how the free market health insurance system works if left alone by the government. That’s how it worked for decades before Obamacare.
I would also point out that even low-risk people with insurance were sometimes told their illness did not qualify for medical coverage, or that the treatment recommended by their doctors was considered experimental so would not be covered.
Insurance companies have their own panel of doctors and medical experts who make those decisions. Your doctor’s opinion does not override theirs. Of course, you could also file a lawsuit and spend years in court fighting their decision. That’s how the free market works.
Every other nation in the civilized world has single-payer national health insurance, which is similar to Medicare in the United States. Everyone is thrown together in one insurance pool.
Even President Donald Trump recently acknowledged that’s a better system, noting Australia’s health system is better than that of the United States.
Unlike the rest of the industrialized world, our government does nothing to control medical costs. Nor does it do anything to control prescription drug costs.
So in the free market that is the United States, a drug company that owns the rights to EpiPens, life-saving injection devices commonly used to treat people suffering from severe allergic reactions, can increase the price of a two-injection packet to $600. The actually cost of the drug inside was valued at less than $20. The same injection pen drug duo sells for $290 in Canada.
From 2013 to 2015, the average cost of prescription drugs in the United States rose 25 percent.
Health insurance and drug companies, by the way, spend massive amounts of money on commercial advertising and political lobbying in the United States. That is the free market at work.
If you believe in health care that is more expensive, if you believe in insurance that covers fewer people, if you think it’s right to deny insurance to babies born with birth defects, then you are a true believer in the free market.
If not, join the fight for single-payer, universal health care.