LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Medicare for all best answer to health care riddle

I have read several letters from your readers concerning the repeal of Obamacare and would like to make some comments, as well as add some facts to this conversation. The people of this country have a major decision to make: Is health care a commodity whose sole purpose is to make money for corporations and available only to those who can afford it, or a right which should be provided by the federal government and paid for with the appropriate tax increases?

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I am a capitalist and believe in our system. At the same time, I also believe that it is in our own self-interest to join the rest of the major industrialized nation and provide health care for all our citizens through a single-payer system, which we already have and works very well, i.e., Medicare.

Let me provide some facts to support my view. We pay the highest per-capita cost for health care of any nation in the world: over $9,000 per person. This is over $3,000 more than the second-highest, Norway. Our costs continue to rise, and have been [rising] for the past 17 years.

I was a vice president of operations for a major sporting goods company, and part of my job entailed developing the annual budget for my division. This included the cost of health care for our employees. The cost of insurance has risen annually by 10 percent between 2002 and 2010.

One of the best things Obamacare has done was to make the public aware of the actual cost of medical insurance. Since insurance is provided for most people through their employers, people only focus on the piece they pay, which is usually somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent. So, in our company, which paid 75 percent of employee coverage, this amounted to about $250 a month for a family plan that the employee paid. The actual cost was $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year. This was with a $1,500 deductible and maximum out-of-pocket of $3,000.

Many people blame Obamacare for the increased cost of health insurance, and to a degree, they are right. The program forces insurance companies to insure sick people with pre-existing conditions, allowed parents to keep their children on their insurance until age 26 and eliminated lifetime maximum payouts. Most people like and want these to continue; I can assure you the insurance companies do not.

Insurance companies now say they are now losing money on the policies in the Obamacare exchanges, and this is true. They are not, however, having any problem making money companywide. In 2015, these are the net profit figures for the three largest insurers: Aetna, $2.3 billion; Cigna, $2.07 billion; and United Healthcare, $5.8 billion.

Our for-profit hospitals are also doing quite well; here are some examples: HCA Holding, $2.12 billion; United Health Care Services, $681 million; and Community Healthcare Systems, $158 million. Add to this the drug companies who charge Americans four times what the rest of the world pays for the same drugs.

Let me give you a personal example. My wife is diabetic and needs insulin. She uses Levimer Flex pens. A box of four pens, which lasts a month, costs $419; in Canada, the cost is $120. The company that makes this drug, Novo Nordisc, had 2015 profits of $5.07 billion. A few more examples: Restasis, at $417 per month, is made by Allergan, whose profit was $3.9 billion; and the real clincher: Cosentex, $8,313 per month, made by Novartis, whose profits were $7.02 billion.

And what do we get for all of this? In a recent study published by the St. Louis Dispatch, the U.S. ranked 37 out of 191 nations in overall health care performance. Many will argue that a one-payer system leads to rationing and poor outcomes. Let me assure you that people are not dying in the streets in Canada or England. Sen. Ted Cruz recently pointed out that 50,000 Canadians came to the U.S. for treatment; well, 1.5 million Americans went out of the U..S for treatment last year. We already ration care in the U.S. but we do it based on who can afford to pay.

Until we take the extreme profits out of our health care, it will never be affordable. Medicare for all, paid for with appropriate tax increases, is [the] best answer for the clear majority of Americans.

Jack Fellin

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