Image for post
Image for post

Health Insurance Companies Are Great For Shareholders, Bad For Patients

Image for post
Image for post
Photo from Flickr

Last week, several news outlets carried a story about the American healthcare system, an issue that has been overlooked but is still fraught with problems. According to CNN, an Oklahoma jury awarded $25 million to the family of Orrana Cunningham. Cunningham was diagnosed with cancer and her doctor recommended she receive proton beam therapy. Aetna refused because they claimed it was experimental treatment. However, according to expert testimony beam therapy was not experimental. Cunningham died in 2015. CNN said jurors were horrified by Aetna’s lack of concern for their client and ordered they pay her family compensation.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. In 2001, Andrea Yates, a mother of five who had severe mental problems, killed her children. Yates had been receiving mental health counseling, but Blue Cross Blue Shield said she had used all of her allotted counseling sessions. So she was sent home and drowned all five of her offspring.

Both Yates’ children and Cunningham were killed by their insurance companies. However, if you’ve worked in the American healthcare system, you’re not surprised by these outcomes.

That’s the way the system is set up. American health insurance companies are for-profit organizations, their first priority is to generate profit for the shareholders, not provide healthcare. The only way they can stay profitable is by not serving their customers. You pay your premium every month, but when you get sick and need an expensive procedure, the company loses money. So denying you healthcare is in their best interests.

Their business model is to deny customers service. This exposes the central problem with America’s for-profit healthcare system. Americans spend a lot of money on private health insurance, only to get lousy service in return.

The Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA,) with its stipulation that health insurance companies cannot deny people healthcare because of past issues, was a step in the right direction. But even getting that passed was like pulling teeth. Americans were brainwashed into believing that Obamacare was socialism that would lead to rationing and “death panels.”

That’s the way the system is set up. American health insurance companies are for-profit organizations, their first priority is to generate profit for the shareholders, not provide healthcare. The only way they can stay profitable is by not serving their customers. You pay your premium every month, but when you get sick and need an expensive procedure, the company loses money. So denying you healthcare is in their best interests.

But you already have rationing with the current private system. When a health insurance executive denies you coverage, that’s rationing. He’s conserving the company’s money by denying the patient treatment. And there are death panels, they’re just called insurance companies. Big insurance company executives are sending people to their deaths, as seen in the cases of Yates’s children and Cunningham.

I’ve talked to several health professionals and they often say the worst thing about the private health insurance system is they can’t give patients the care they need. The person making healthcare decisions is often a health insurance company pen pusher, who has no medical training. I’ve also read articles about American healthcare professionals who have visited countries such as Britain and Canada and marveled at their healthcare systems.

The ACA is testimony to the dysfunctional nature of the American political system. The people wanted a single-payer system, but by the time Washington lobbyists had got done with the bill, we ended up with a law that mandated people buy private healthcare. When Obamacare rolled out people, realized that it was too expensive and still had many flaws.

Donald Trump rode into office promising to repeal Obamacare and return to the bad, old days of health insurance companies being able to reject patients for prior conditions. Unfortunately, his supporters are so clueless and fact-averse, they won’t realize how good Obamacare was until it’s gone.

But there are some glimmers of hope. Younger generations seem to be more open to universal healthcare, socialism be damned. They’ve seen how bad the American healthcare system is and are open to change.

This new spirit is embodied by recently-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who questioned why America could fund never-ending wars, but couldn’t provide decent healthcare for its people.

“People talk about the sticker shock of Medicare-for-all, but not of our existing system,” said Ocasio-Cortez in a CNN interview. “This is not a pipe dream. Every other nation does this — why can’t America?”

She has a point. Contrary to right-wing and healthcare industry propaganda, America doesn’t have the best healthcare system in the world. It has the most expensive system, but it is far from efficient. The most efficient healthcare system is in Hong Kong, according to Bloomberg. The U.S. was ranked 54th in efficiency even though we spend more than $9,000 per person on healthcare.

In addition, Americans have worse healthcare outcomes than countries with universal healthcare because in those countries people can go for regular preventative care. Since the American healthcare system is so expensive, people only go to the doctor when their condition is serious and more costly to resolve.

And it’s not just left-wingers who are realizing the benefits of a universal healthcare system. A recent Koch brothers-funded health study revealed that a universal healthcare system would save money. The savings would come from reduced advertising costs and more efficient drug pricing.

So while some right-wingers lament young people are adopting socialism, they only have themselves to blame. If capitalism had created a functioning healthcare system, young Americans wouldn’t be looking at universal healthcare. But it didn’t. The current system is a disaster, and we need to try something else.

Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store