Thursday, July 16, 2009
For Insurance Companies, Profit is Easy, Healthcare is Hard
By Ted B. Ellis

“Why can't you just die?” Those are the words of Two-Face to Batman, but in order to avoid profit loss, they also represent the rhetorical response of the for-profit health insurance industry to Americans needing healthcare. The fictional character Two-Face was terribly conflicted, flipping his coin to choose between right and wrong, but the insurance industry lacks that moral dilemma. They're a for-profit industry, spending heavily to rig any coin toss to “maintain the status quo” of high profits. While their public face claims they want to help all Americans, their private face shows no such compassion as the industry spends $1.4 million a day to prevent reform that would provide non-profit insurance to Americans lacking affordable healthcare.

The insurance industry knows that by denying coverage and benefits, their profits increase. That fatal conflict of interest results in over 18,000 Americans dying prematurely each year because they lacked coverage. A healthcare dollar denied is a profit dollar made, while paying for healthcare is termed a medical loss by the industry. Recent Senate testimony revealed insurers intentionally “confuse their customers and dump the sick” to meet “Wall Street's relentless profit expectations.” Congressional testimony shows insurance bureaucrats get rewarded for denying healthcare funding to insured Americans.

John Ehrlichman phrased it with chilling clarity when he convinced Nixon to create for-profit HMO's: “Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit. … All the incentives are toward less medical care because the less care they give them, the more money they make.” Nixon replied: "Fine.”

If you have a pre-existing condition, they won't insure you. If you get sick and lose your job, they'll terminate your benefits. If testing finds you're pre-disposed to cancer, they'll take away your coverage. "Why can't you just die?"

America's for-profit healthcare system is ranked 37th amongst industrialized nations according to the World Healthcare Organization's latest study. Replacing our fatally flawed, for-profit system with a Single-Payer, non-profit, government sponsored insurance plan would not only cover every American citizen, but do so at no extra cost. Every other industrialized nation has implemented Single Payer because it's the most efficient for delivering health-care and the most effective at maintaining and prolonging life. Single Payer would also help eliminate the medical debt that is the cause of most bankruptcies in this country.

For details about Single-Payer, examine Congressman John Conyers' Single-Payer bill, H.R. 676, and got to websites like Physicians for a National Health Program.

An AP-Yahoo poll found an overwhelming 65% of Americans wanted Single-Payer in 2007, and today 72% prefer it according to a just-released NY Times/ABC poll. But you won't hear about that from the mainstream media because there's a blackout on discussing Single-Payer in a positive light. ABC's June 24th televised forum on healthcare promised "questions from every single vantage point" yet the issue of Single-Payer was never raised by either the ABC interviewers or ABC's hand-selected guests. Apparently most news organizations won't risk the loss of healthcare-industry advertising by including Single-Payer advocates in the discussion.

Although President Obama often claims if he were starting from scratch he would prefer a Single-Payer system, he hasn't put it on the table due to fear of the insurance lobby, Republicans, and the mainstream media.

You can fight to improve the lives of millions of Americans by calling your Senators, Congressmen, and key legislators like Max Baucus, to repeatedly demand that they pass Single-Payer in the form of Medicare For All (HR676). Otherwise, one day when you need healthcare, you may get a rhetorical response that's only too reminiscent of Two Face, “Why can't you just die?”

Ted B. Ellis, (, is a political activist in the Seattle, WA area, who has worked for and written about healthcare reform for over 12 years.