By Don Keelan
It was only a few years ago that presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders was advocating that the country adopt a Medicare for All concept, eliminating all private insurance plans.
The concept was that the federal government would be the sole provider of health insurance for all Americans. It would be an expansion of the existing Medicare coverage, which currently covers approximately 60 million seniors.
So not to be outdone, almost all of the other 23 Democratic presidential primary candidates have signed on to eliminate the private health insurance market and have Washington take it over.
The rationale for this is that it will lower the cost of health insurance for the 180 million Americans who obtain their coverage through private insurance carriers, and eliminate the high deductibles and costly out-of-pocket expenses. Added to which, the 30 million uninsured would be provided health insurance.
In advocating for such a drastic change, the proponents advance that everyone who now has private coverage will continue to be able to use their present health care provider, chose any hospital they wish for care, and have drug prescription costs that will be far less than what they are currently paying.
What all this implies is that the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act is not working and needs to be scrapped.
What puzzles me is that, out of a country of 330 million, we are about to go to great lengths to provide insurance for the 30 million who do not have any coverage. Why not just focus on this group?
Rarely does this writer introduce personal information when preparing a column, but in this instance I believe it is necessary, and I hope helpful.
My wife and I, both well into our 70s, have been Medicare enrollees for many years. Contrary to popular belief, it is not inexpensive to be enrolled. For example, our combined annual out of pocket cost for the insurance payments in 2018 came to $11,217.
How was this figured?
The amount taken directly out of our Social Security payments was $4,812. The cost of supplemental insurance with Continental and Progressive was $4,995. The cost of prescription drug insurance was $1,410. The total came to $11,217.
Even with this annual cost, Medicare and the supplemental insurance companies balked at paying the total billings from providers. Furthermore, the prescription insurance does not cover the full cost either.
But it gets better. On a recent visit to the hospital by my wife for a six-month blood draw ordered by her doctor, the hospital check-in attendant was taking an inordinate amount of time. When I had asked her why, her response was, “We are checking with Medicare to see if they will approve and pay for the test.” They did. It was just for a simple blood test but required pre-approval.
There are serious issues with the country’s health care system. One of the most perplexing is cost. The same hospital we went to for the blood test announced last year that it must update their Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems at a cost of $25 million. This makes no sense for a hospital that is certified for about 90 beds.
The state’s largest hospital, UVM Medical Center, is looking at a price tag of $151 million to convert its EMR. Other hospitals around the country have spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, to abide by the federal mandate to have EMR.
Getting the federal government to become the sole provider of insurance (“Medicare for All”) makes great campaign rhetoric, but in reality, makes no sense — not until we, as a country, get the cost of health care under control. Having Washington be the sole insurance provider is ridiculous, especially since not one of the 24 Democratic Party candidates is capable of showing what it will cost.
And of course, no one has the courage to address the elephant in the room — the absolute need to adopt medical, dental, and prescription rationing. It is a delicate topic that no one wishes to address.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.