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September 12, 2017

Which do you hate more: your cable or health insurance company?

Robert Niles
By Robert Niles

Having run websites for 20 years now, I know how to stir up a flame war. But there's one question I never have dared to ask before — one question that I know can elicit more hate and anger than any other. One question to ignite the flame war to end all flame wars:

Which do you hate more: your cable provider or your health insurance company?

Left or right, white or black, Yankees or Red Sox, it doesn't matter. Americans come together as one, united, against any business that's getting away with ripping us off. But while it's easy to get angry, it is so much more satisfying to get even.

So how do we do that? With cable providers, more and more Americans are "cutting the cord" and giving up expensive cable subscriptions in favor of streaming services or just going without TV. A political battle is coming over whether cable companies and other Internet service providers will be allowed to restrict access to online video services, but at least Americans have started fighting back against the cable companies.

We are still waiting to start that fight against the health insurance industry.

Don't bother bringing up Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act wasn't a blow against the health insurance industry. It was a multi-billion dollar giveaway to it, instead. Sure, Obamacare forced insurance companies to offer policies that actually covered something, instead of disappearing after the first substantial claim. But in return for that, Obamacare funneled tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to the industry, brought millions of relatively healthy (and thus, less expensive) consumers into insurance pools, and guaranteed health insurance companies profit margins up to 20 percent. What industry wouldn't want that deal?

Apparently, the health insurance industry. Because Obamacare's fat payday hasn't been enough to satisfy the health insurance industry's ravenous greed. Insurance companies have announced another round of double-digit-percentage premium increases for next year, and several more companies are abandoning Obamacare's exchange markets for self-employed and under-employed Americans in order to focus on gouging businesses with their even-more-profitable employee health care plans.

It's time for Americans to cut the cord with the health insurance industry. But how do we do that without giving up access to health care?

This isn't like cable TV. Going without endless M*A*S*H re-runs is one thing. Going without the ability to go to an actual hospital is another. People are not going to gamble their lives waiting for some market-based solution to evolve, given that the market has only gotten worse for consumers in the 44 years since the federal government expanded for-profit health care with the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. No, if we are going to cut off the health insurance industry, we have to work together to do it all at the same time.

The only tool we have to do that is through our elected representatives in government. Conservatives might not like government-driven solutions, but the health industry used government to create this profit opportunity mess in the 1970s, so it would only be appropriate for the American people to use what ought to be our government to fix it now.

What efficiency is the health insurance industry bringing to the table in exchange for its profits? The health insurance industry achieves its "efficiency" by creating new and innovative ways to deny us care, not by making access and payment for health care easier and more convenient. How much money could we save if eliminated health insurance company profits from what we spend on health care?

I'm not talking about cutting the money we pay to doctors and nurses that provide actual care — just to the companies that push the paper. Then how much time and money could our doctors save if they had to deal with only one, single payer for health care, with one set of paperwork and procedures for getting paid? No more jumping through hoops for pre-approval, either. No more starting from scratch when a patient changes providers.

Not convinced yet? Let's forget about the actual health care for a moment and think instead about what getting rid of the health insurance industry might do for the economy as a whole. Imagine if health insurance no longer had anything to do with employment. Companies would not have to pay more for health insurance every time they hired a new employee. In fact, they could wipe all their health insurance premiums right off the books. Those retiree health costs that are crippling established businesses, local governments, and school districts? Gone.

You never would lose your coverage if you changed jobs. In fact, if you want to leave your job and start your own business, you don't have to worry about your health care. And you won't have to worry about paying for anyone else's health insurance if you want to expand your business and hire help. Yes, we would have to pay more in taxes to pay for national health care, but that cost would be spread among all taxpayers — and not paid disproportionally by companies that hire Americans full-time, and the self-employed, as it is now. And that tax expense would be offset by not having to pay any more money to health insurance companies — or crippling co-pays to doctors and hospitals. National health care could become the biggest pro-entrepreneurial act in our nation's history.

Dump Obamacare. Dump the Republicans' insurance-company-coddling "market based" solutions, whatever they might turn out to be. I want to cut the cord with my health insurance company, and I want every other American to join me to do that, together.

Let's at least start talking about national health care. Because Americans deserve better than to keep being ripped off.

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© Robert Niles