John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

Health care, as a phrase, is a misnomer in this country.

That’s because when people say “health care,” they really mean “health insurance,” which is the foundation of our “health care system.”

And as we ease into the next year, during which a legion of legislators bent on repealing and replacing “Obamacare,” meaning the health reform legislation pushed through by our president and Congress, we will see exactly how much our system depends on the idea of paying money to a corporation that promises to cover medical costs if you get sick.

Before I dive into a history of health insurance, I should point out that the insurance industry will be the main support for keeping a central premise of the health care reform law intact – the part that requires all people to sign up for health insurance or face penalties.

This isn’t supposed to become effective for a couple of years, but if you listen to the caterwauling of the Tea Baggers you’d be excused for thinking it already is in effect and is turning us into a nation of communists.

It’s not, of course. But such pig-headed thinking is at the core of all the noise and tumult of the recent election season (a phrase that truthfully likens electioneering to a contact sport).

The fact is, however, that the insurance industry stands to reap billions in extra profits thanks to the new health care law. And the leaders of that industry, who disingenuously have worked to fan the flames of anti-Obamacare rhetoric, know this and love it.

The two-faced nature of the industry’s tactics is clearly laid out in a Nov. 15 Newsweek magazine article by a man termed an “insurance-company defector,” and you can read it for yourself.

Returning to my earlier theme, health insurers have not always held the trump cards in the delivery of health care to the people.

Experts say the industry got its start during the U.S. Civil War. It evolved from the successful pioneering effort of a Boston company that in 1847 began offering “accident insurance” to people traveling by risky means to far places – trains, steamboats, hot-air balloons, that sort of thing.

By the time of the Civil War, policies had come into being that covered a broader range of illness and injuries, and by the early part of the 20th Century the insurance industry had started fashioning contractual arrangements with hospitals and doctors to ensure that patients would need to buy insurance in order to get treated.

As medical science and its ugly twin, the bureaucracy of health care, together advanced and grew in cost and complexity, health care became the province of hospitals and clinics rather than house calls by friendly, country doctors. The evil cabal of the modern medico-insurance complex became entrenched.

The government got involved, and employer-based health insurance was exempted from taxes in the 1950s, and the race was on to drive up health care costs so that everyone could get rich. Except the patients, of course, who were effectively hog-tied into paying ever-mounting premiums just to stay healthy, because they could never afford it on their own.

Attempts at nationalized health care in the ’50s and ’60s were efficiently beaten back as communistic conspiracies, and so we arrive at the sickening mess (in every sense of the phrase) that we are in today.

Some elements of society, mostly sprouting from the work progressive movements and liberal politicians, have tried to derail this express train before it bankrupts the country, but their efforts have fallen before the onslaught of self-interested lies promulgated by the insurance industry and their politically conservative bag men.

So, in the coming couple of years, you can expect to hear more idiotic outbursts against “death panels” and “socialistic government takeover of health care,” as the conservatives act upon their belief that people are too stupid to realize they’re being had.

And the insurance industry will continue to play both sides against the middle, in the hope of milking the cash cow of health care for as long as the cow will stand still for it.

As the reader no doubt understands, there is much more to be said on this subject.

We’ll talk again.