People should drive movement to reform health care
Published 10:55 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2001
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions endeared himself to the community and to this newspaper when he stopped for a visit with government and community leaders Monday in Atmore and touted education reform, building up the country's defense budget and establishing a patient's bill of rights.
But the Senator's remarks about his priorities weren't without cause for concern. Sessions was more intent on focusing attention on our country's wage index so hospitals could be profitable instead of focusing on root causes of rising health care costs for most working Americans.
By working to change our country's wage index, a formula used to determine how much government programs will pay for medical procedures, Sessions has become a warrior for hospitals across the country in his effort to make life better for Americans.
While we applaud his intent on this issue, we feel his efforts could be directed at a better target. Instead of helping consumers lower insurance premiums and get away from "managed" health care, Sessions chose to attack a formula. While this formula is far from perfect, it is hardly the cause of our county's health care woes.
Insurance rates are soaring for working Americans as the quality of health care we receive becomes more and more streamlined. Most of us feel as if we are viewed by our insurance companies or HMOs as units and dollars and not as patients with unique conditions, needs and desires. And as costs rise, it becomes increasingly more difficult to get to those doctors and into those programs without a folder full of referrals from a "primary care physician."
No one really seems to be able to put the blame for this phenomenon with any one organization in particular. Insurance companies point to the greed of the hospitals and the eagerness of politicians to earn political points by raising the rates government programs will pay for medical procedures. These higher rates, insurance companies claim, become the norm that they must pay and, consequently, pass along to their customers.
At the same time, they often choose not to pay the full amounts charged for medical procedures, leaving their customers with large bills to pay as a result of this situation.
Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies claim that increases in research costs have driven up their rates and that they are making it on bare-bones budgets as it is. This may be true in some cases.
But without the government paying more by dropping the wage index and making health care equitable to all people across country, these companies will have no choice but to pass along the lion's share of cost increases to insurance companies. And when these companies don't pay the full amount for the procedures and treatment, insurance customers fork over their own money (again), which sends them deeper and deeper into debt.
So what is the answer?
Clearly Sessions is right when he proposes a patient's bill of rights. But by focusing attention on the wage index and not the complex issue of health care with many different facets, he is, indeed, sidestepping the issue. And in the meantime, all health care organizations, from the government to the insurance companies to the hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, continue pointing fingers at one another as your insurance rates climb and your health care becomes "streamlined."
Health care is better than ever thanks to technology, but many patients aren't able to make choices about which doctors, hospitals or kinds of treatment they will seek for their problems because managed care has taken the decision away from them.
We thank the Senator for his visit to Atmore and we applaud his position to repair a broken system of education that puts the rights of the individual above the rights of the class. We also agree wholeheartedly that it's time that we restore funding of defense spending to acceptable levels that allow us to properly retire aging and unacceptably old equipment while staying safe in the process.
We also encourage our Senator to rethink his position on health care. While our hospitals may be struggling to make profits, constituents who are stuck between insurance companies and HMOs are forced to make choices based on their own economic reality rather than on what's medically best for them, often still paying high prices on procedures that their insurance doesn't cover.
Again, we thank the Senator for his visit, but we encourage him to rethink is priorities. The American people, not the health care industry, should drive health care reform.