When did OUR problem become MY problem?

THE BACKSTORY: In the Saturday/Sunday, July 7-8, 2007 edition of The Wall Street Journal; pg.A3), ran an article that really bothered me: How ERISA May Trip Up Bids To Extend Coverage. In short, this article discussed how recent attempts to enforce action against employers who fail to offer health care benefit plans to employees could be affected by the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

THE RUB: Why are the lawmakers in the United States so bent on making health care for workers the responsibility of employers, when it’s clearly the health care system that appears to be broken, making it difficult for individuals to even afford coverage on their own?

THE RANT: First, allow me to say thanks for living in a country where I can safely visit (nearly) any hospital in a time of urgent need, and obtain a high-level of care. In fact, I’m grateful for my chosen doctor and the relationship we have developed concerning the health needs of a male in his mid-30s.

Currently, I am self-employed and have health care coverage obtained (at a surprisingly affordable level) via COBRA coverage through the employer of my former wife. During the transitional period of starting my own business(es) and returning to bachelorhood, this was a reasonably affordable, temporary solution to my need for health care coverage. While it may not be optimal (money-wise), it has proven responsible.

Is a nationalized health-care system (similar to that in Canada or other countries) the answer for the United States? Likely not. (That’s a topic for another day.) But, neither should a health care system with out of control costs (malpractice insurance, drug costs, technology costs, etc.) be effectively subsidized by other business owners simply because they were successful enough to need to add employees. Let’s remember the problem, here: affordable health care for all who need it.

Simply requiring employers to offer a health care plan to all employees or face stiff penalties (often proposed as dollars per employee or a percentage of total payroll), only means employers could circumvent the penalties by offering up a handful of very expensive choices. Not what the legislators are hoping to achieve. Besides that, many employers may decide to offer health insurance at the expense of a retirement plan of any kind, a fate potentially far worse for employees!

It’s time to take a hard look at the economic failure created by a bloated, inefficient health care (insurance?) system and begin looking for solutions every citizen can afford. Insurance, by definition, is a pooling of risks, where many people pay in for the benefit of the entire group. Theoretically, the larger the group, the more the risk is spread around. If the same insurance company offers benefits to 1,000 customers, why should it matter if that is 1,000 self-employed individuals, 1 company with 1,000 participating employees, or any breakdown in-between. It is the same 1,000 people, for crying out loud!

Something is definitely wrong with the way health insurance companies assess their own amount of risk. Further, why do insurance companies get a discount off of the “rack rates” you and I would pay, if we simply paid cash for all services rendered? (Here’s one take on that issue from Ohioan Rick Smith’s campaign website.-Note: I do not live in Ohio, nor am I familiar with other political stances of Mr. Smith. This link is simply an illustration of my point about health coverage. Thanks for understanding.

On a lighter note, isn’t it funny how many people complain about paying a $20 co-pay for their own doctor’s visit and those very people will drop $500 in a heartbeat on a veterinarian bill to pay for uninsured services on a pet? It’s time to step up as Americans, and take some responsibility for our own medical needs!

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