Newt Gingrich, one of the de facto leaders of the Republican Party, gave an interview to ABC Medical editor Dr. Timothy Johnson last week to discuss health care reform. Gingrich predictably went into scare-mongering mode, making arguments against measures that aren’t even part of the debate. He said the U.S. should not adopt a “single national health system” such as in Canada or the UK. “If I have to choose between my doctor and a government bureaucrat, I have zero doubt which one I want,” he said. Of course, no such choice is being offered.
But Gingrich also touted the success of private health insurers. When Johnson noted that it is insurance companies that are coming between patients and needed care, Gingrich claimed, “If you don’t like your current insurance company, you can change insurance companies.” He later argued that private insurers have done “well”:
GINGRICH: They have it done well. And the fact is, overall, 71 percent of Americans are relatively satisfied with the health insurance.
JOHNSON: But we have 46 million uninsured.
GINGRICH: Right. And we have — you know, that means you also have 260 million insured.
Perhaps Gingrich hasn’t been paying attention to how private insurance companies have been doing it. They continually deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and drop coverage for many who have insurance (and have paid monthly premiums) when they become ill. In fact, just this month, the CEOs of the nation’s top three health insurers told a House committee that they would continue the practice of canceling medical coverage for sick policy holders, a controversial measure called “rescission.”
Moreover, many of those who have health insurance really aren’t “insured” from the financial burdens of rising health care costs. A national study released this year found that while medical debt contributed to 62 percent of the bankruptcies in 2007, 78 percent of those bankruptcy filers had health insurance but “still were overwhelmed by their medical debt.”
Perhaps because he hasn’t had to shop around for health insurance for quite a while, Gingrich doesn’t know that it’s not that easy to just “change insurance companies” if you’re unhappy with your current provider. Aside from the fact that insurer consolidation has resulted in limited choice and higher profits for insurers, those seeking insurance on the individual market face higher costs, as the Commonwealth Fund has noted:
Insurance in the individual market is often impossible to obtain or unaffordable. Nearly nine of 10 people who explored obtaining coverage through the individual market never bought a plan, citing difficulties finding affordable coverage or being turned down.
If private insurance companies have “done well” and a public plan is no option, how does Gingrich plan to reform health care?