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08:14 pm: Health Insurers: worse than worthless
It is an open secret that the United States spends more per person on health care than any other nation ever, but achieves shorter and less healthy lives than many other countries. We spend more per health improvement achieved than any other rich nation, and some not as rich nations, such as Costa Rica, achieve lifespans as long as we do at a small fraction of the price. We spend a lot on healthcare, but a small portion of that actually goes to accomplishing improved health. Where does the rest go? Administrative costs, corporate profits, healthcare inefficiencies (treating uninsured people only once their problem becomes a multi-thousand dollar emergency) and "induced demand" (a term that means something along the lines of "if you install the fancy new machine, you can find patients who desperately need to be charged for using it, even if there is no health benefit.") No other country comes anywhere close to the US in administative costs or induced demand. Why are we so bad at translating healthcare in health? Two words: insurance companies.

The role of an insurance company, as far as I can tell, is to fight government efforts to provide affordable healthcare so that the insurance company can then force us to buy unaffordable healthcare, and then do everything in their power to avoid actually spending money on improving health. And because they have written most of our healthcare laws, they can do things like take your fees until you get sick, then stonewall paying until you try to switch to another company, then refuse to take care of people switching from other companies because they have pre-existing conditions. Once a consumer has signed up for insurance, our laws create no incentives for insurers to provide decent costomer service, improve the costomer's lifespan or provide preventative care. Having had more than my share of interactions with insurance companies, I have yet to meet one that didn't trying to frustrate me into going away before reluctantly paying for some healthcare.

As the Obama administration is considering revamping our healthcare system, the big for-profit health insurance companies are worried that the government can build a healthcare system that is faster, more efficient, more responsive, cheaper and more condusive to health than anything they have come up with. This does not sound hard. So far I have heard only two reasons offered why this is a bad idea. "Socialism!" is the first. This is easily dismisable. Every country that achieves more health for less money than we do has a more socialized healthcare system. Just like a system of roads works better when run by the government than when left to the free market, healthcare has proven to work better when socialized. The second objection, mentioned in this NYTimes article, is that it is "unfair" to the private companies to have to compete with a government system. This is the sound of the world's most administratively inefficient violin playing just for them.

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