End Corporate Gamesmanship

March 25, 2011

End corporate gamesmanship (RH)

Your calm and insightful editorial on the hysterical nature of opposition to the single-payer debate was much appreciated. It’s interesting to note that as the debate unfolds, the supposed ills of single-payer, as put forward by the insurance industry — long delays in treatment, cost, lack of consumer choice — are actually the very reasons that the current system needs to be either replaced or overhauled.

Years ago I worked for a time at The Travelers in Boston. The company’s website tells the story of how the company got started in Hartford, Conn., at the height of the Civil War. It was a bet between two businessmen: Mr. Bolter handed Mr. Batterson 2 cents and bet that he could get home for lunch and back without a mishap. If he did, Mr. Batterson could keep the 2 cents. If he didn’t, Mr. Batterson would agree to pay the doctor bill.

Insurance companies make their profits by basically playing a game of beating the odds that no one will have a claim. You give me your money, and I get to keep it all if the odds are in my favor. Thus, the odds must always be stacked in my favor. Too many claims or too much payout mean that someone will be cancelled, or at least end up with limited coverage. Is it any wonder that the tallest buildings in any American city belong to insurance companies?

The industry’s argument that private enterprise — the profit motive — can solve all ills is patently absurd. Private enterprise does nothing if there is no profit in it. No wonder the industry is wrinkling its brow over “who will pay for” single-payer. The insurance industry functions on a “heads-I-win-tails-you-lose” scenario. Win-win is not in its lexicon.

Whining over who has the money is symptomatic of the very problem that single-payer is trying to solve, that is, the failure of the insurance industry to meet the needs of you and me. Our current system of insurance is a cynical exercise that places the financial expense and the burden of poor health onto the shoulders of those of us who are going undiagnosed and untreated because we either are not willing to incur a medical expense that we can’t pay, or we incur the expense anyway and risk ending up in court for nonpayment on the insurance company’s timetable. We lose time from work, we can’t function, we are constantly anxious, and sometimes we risk an early death as a result of an untreated condition.

It’s past time to end the corporate gamesmanship that plays with people’s lives, just to win the bet.