The escalating health care crisis, while causing an ever-widening circle of human misery, is also revealing the ugly underbelly of U.S. capitalism. The health crisis is giving rise to a raft of illegal and fraudulent practices, all driven by greed.

Insurance policy scams

A recent report from the prestigious Commonwealth Fund, titled “Health Insurance Scams Leave Thousands with Large Medical Debts and No Coverage,” says that a proliferation of phony insurance companies have “left nearly 100,000 people with approximately $85 million in unpaid medical debts and without health coverage” since 2001. They reported that Florida leads the nation with 30,000 victims of this swindling. While the primary targets of these phony insurance plans have been senior citizens trying to fill the gap between what Medicare pays and what doctors and hospitals will pay for health services, other Floridians are also being scammed.

The other state prominently cited in the report is Texas, where the Texas Insurance Department has shut down 129 phony insurance companies that swindled over 20,000 people.

It is painfully obvious that the Bush brothers, Jeb (of Florida) and George W., are not cracking down on these practices. Quite the contrary: They are allowing these swindlers to do their dirty work under cover of darkness, with little or no public scrutiny.

The report recommends greater public oversight and an increase in penalties to those who prey on people seeking health insurance. They make a few more window-dressing recommendations, but their final recommendation points to the real solution: “Expand access to health insurance coverage to reduce the need for affordable insurance that allows phony plans to thrive.”

Dumping family coverage

The Kaiser Family Fund reports that health insurance premiums rose by 13.9 percent in the past year, the largest increase since 1990. Premiums for family coverage increased by 49 percent from the already high figure of $1,619 to $2,412.

Insurance carriers claim that the increasing premiums merely reflect higher health costs, but they rarely offer proof. At the same time it’s clear that the insurance companies are handsomely increasing their profits.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Wall Street Journal published a front page story on Sept. 9 titled “Company Health Plans Try to Drop Spouses.” The article cites Verizon’s demands in their recent contract negotiations to impose restrictions on their workers’ spousal coverage, along the lines of what Boeing workers have had to face. The General Electric contract with the electrical workers unions contains similar revisions. These revisions are a foot in the door for greater cutbacks.

One thing is for sure: the days when workers, through their labor contracts, were able to count on coverage for their spouses and children are almost finished. The most cynical attack from employers is to follow the insurance company lead by charging more for family coverage if the family is a large one over a small one. So much for family values.

‘Rationing’ health care

Another front page article in the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 12) finally says what is really happening in our health care system: “Rationing is Here.”

Our backward economic and health delivery systems are based on profit. Under capitalism, profit governs everyday decision-making. Money has long served to ration health care. The more money a person has at his or her discretion, the more services the person is able to afford.

In the past, insurance policies and workplace health benefits limited the risks for everyday people. Medicaid would take care of people suffering from unemployment and poverty and Medicare would protect retirees. Cutbacks in both of these programs are now being coupled with sharp cutbacks in employer-based and negotiated programs.

Why? The answer is simple: skyrocketing prices being charged by pharmaceutical and insurance companies, medical and hospital supply companies and similar charges. The sky’s the limit for profits under Bush and the Republican Congress. “Let the market decide” is their decree. Well, the market is deciding, and people are suffering, people are dying prematurely; and the crisis is reaching epic proportions.

Changing course will require a major struggle. Every candidate for public office has to choose a side: “The People’s Health or Health for Profits.”

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