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Would We Sell Our Children's Future to a Health Insurance Company?

Donna Smith

WASHINGTON, DC -- If I asked any of you to whom you would sell your child's future, you'd quickly deny that you'd sell your child's future to anyone, I suspect. Yet, as the nation prepares to embrace President-elect Obama's massive enhancement of the health insurance industry in a bail-out plan disguised as healthcare reform, public entities throughout the land are cutting back on public school funding, public safety and even public health programs all to shave taxpayer funded budgets strained with the costs of retiree and public employee private healthcare benefits.

So, our kids will have fewer educational opportunities and less safe neighborhoods all to keep up the payments to our for-profit private insurance companies that cover our public employees' benefits, as local and state government entities lose revenue and investment income in these times of economic downturn. Those public employee benefit costs have been growing exponentially over recent years - just like they have for the rest of us -- and burdening public budgets from sewer and water districts to cities to state agencies with encumbrances that make it impossible to bond for new spending or otherwise weather economic crisis. And the public is rarely told the reality. Budget cuts have to come from every other area - but not from those for-profit health benefit payments.

Ouch. We will do almost anything to keep from doing what is right and just in the healthcare system. Even if we have to shut down significant portions of our public school programs without delay. The kids be damned. The future be damned. Blue Cross must be paid. Aetna doesn't suffer. Humana gets its premiums. You get the picture - we have sold our souls and our kids to the insurance industry.

So, now we sit on the edge of national healthcare reform (so we are told). And are we seriously addressing what we'll sacrifice to keep the big insurance boys and girls in the mix? No, we are actually doing the opposite. While the rest of the nation tightens its belts and our public agencies drop programs and services we need more than ever (crime fighting will suffer too), the big health insurance companies are salivating and planning for at least 47 million new customers as the currently uninsured will be forced to buy their substandard products. Yet a solution exists.

The dance we'll see will be quite elaborate. We'll watch the insurance companies act as if they object to a little more control. We'll watch the Senators and Congressional members preen and primp as they laud bringing universal insurance coverage to America. And we'll see insurance company profits soar like nothing else in this economy as the reform rolls out.

But, the kids? They'll have bigger classes and fewer music and art and PE classes in the public schools. But many of our leaders' kids don't have to deal with that anyway, do they? And when our kids walk home through our middle class neighborhoods, fewer police officers will be on patrol and fewer trash collectors will keep our neighborhoods clean. But by God, the insurance companies will be feeling mighty fine.

Now, will Americans have access to better care? Not necessarily. Millions losing jobs won't have the cash to buy good policies - so the junk insurance being offered (and soon to be mandated for purchase) will have huge deductibles and co-pays and out-of-pocket costs that will continue to make barriers to care for millions and millions of people. But everyone will have to buy insurance or face fines and penalties as a result.

I've heard it said this week that the insurance companies don't want and won't have "any leakage in the mandates" for a national health insurance policy. They clearly want everybody in and nobody out of their profit pool. Insurance companies love a single payer system - so long as the government is the single payer giving subsidies and cash payments directly to the insurance company bottom line.

And I've also heard in Sen. Max Baucus' plan that enforcing the penalties for families that don't buy insurance will come at easy "points of contact" Americans have with the government - like the IRS and drivers license bureaus and the like. Wow, forced profits for the health insurance industry. Imagine going to register your child for school and being told "no" unless your private health insurance card is valid and your monthly premiums are paid up-to-date. Brave new world, eh? Our government - the one our taxes fund - will play bill collector for the insurance industry but slash programs for our kids, our safety and our well-being. Sen. Baucus loves the insurance industry a lot, and they love him too.

The people who support true single payer healthcare reform believe and can back up with research that the nation - and all the currently suffering public bodies - would save huge sums of money by shifting to a publicly funded, privately delivered single payer system like proposed in John Conyers' HR676, The National Health Insurance Act (which would be an improved Medicare-like plan extended to all Americans). Even the U.S. Conference of Mayors voted to support the plan - the mayors know what's happening in their cities and what has to happen to fix the budget crisis in their budgets. But, instead, we're going to watch those public budgets get slashed - just like we are watching today in Virginia as Gov. Tim Kaine slashes from education, roads, public safety, etc. What a terrible shame for us all.

So, what does change look like right now in Washington? It is change all right. And it is indeed change we can believe in, that's for sure. The damage will be very believable. It is slick stuff. It is not what we need as the economy suffers and grinds and lives are being forever damaged across the country. We do not need huge bail-outs for the insurance industry. We do need honesty and integrity in looking at all the options and exploring those that would best solve the healthcare crisis in the midst of the economic crisis without permanently injuring our children and damning them to be an American generation that we mortgaged to feed the greed of a few insurance company CEOs putting pressure on 535 members of Congress and one very popular new President.

If we're really getting the special interests out of our government, then the private health insurance industry interests need to go too. The script they are writing for the nation has a really bad ending. And if our new President goes all in with them, the bad ending will taint him far more than it will the special interests. The schools and the neighborhoods we give our kids today matter. The healthcare we give them today matters. The truth we speak in this struggle matters. Let's do each other the honor of being truthful in this endeavor. We owe that to our kids - don't we?

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair, Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

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