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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

June 25, 2009 at 2:58 PM

Health care

No competition, only mandates, in government system

The Seattle Times’editorial [“Real health-care reform,” June 23] supports a public-health-insurance option. Insurance companies can make money by cherry-picking healthy individuals, but health insurers can only attempt to impact society’s aggregate health-care financing in three ways: through administrative efficiency, helping manage the appropriate health-care service utilization level and obtaining steeper discounts from health-care providers. The editorial stated that the public-health-insurance option will bring an “infusion of competition.” How?

The improved competition won’t be from administrative efficiency. Medicare doesn’t even administer its own bills –it subcontracts claims payment to private insurance companies by region. Medicare has finally started working at the edge of fraud but hasn’t controlled overtreatment. The implementation of Medicare is arguably the biggest driver of more than 40 years of increasing overtreatment.

The only club the government has shown it can wield as a public-health-insurance option is driving steeper discounts from providers on each unit of service. This is not accomplished through successful competition but from government mandate.

Employers tend to buy insurance with the broadest provider networks. Reform can better infuse competition by creating a larger market of individuals buying risk-adjusted coverage from clinic and hospital-based small insurers.

— Jim Pederson, Seattle

Why are private insurers afraid of competition?

All kinds of private companies successfully compete on the same playing field as public services. Public libraries have not put many bookstores out of business. FedEx and UPS compete successfully with the U.S. Postal Service. The introduction of Social Security survivors’ benefits left plenty of room for many different kinds of private life insurance.

If private health insurers are worried about competing with government-financed health care, they are admitting they add no value to the health-care system whatsoever.

Which, come to think of is, is pretty much the case. A business model predicated on profiting from bankrupting or killing people by refusing to pay claims and by refusing to cover sick people adds nothing. Private insurance companies have publicly said as much to congressional investigators.

A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently held a hearing intended to bring a halt to these harmful practices. But at the hearing, insurance executives told lawmakers they have no plans to stop rescinding policies. I’ve never heard of that happening with Medicare.

— Martha Koester, Seattle

Congress health-care benefits for all

If Congress really wants to solve health care and Medicare problems, the answer is right in front of its nose. Just give everyone the same benefits representatives and senators have and continue to enjoy.

Why have two sets of standards? If it is good enough for them, then it should be good enough for everyone else.

— William L. Brayer, Edmonds

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