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02.13.08

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Power of the 113

Private insurance interests are why the United States lacks full healthcare

By Peter Phillips and Bridget Thornton


A new research study completed at Sonoma State University shows how health and disability insurance companies are systematically cheating the American public.

Michael Moore's top-grossing movie Sicko is but one example of the growing concern surrounding healthcare in the United States. The number of Americans without health insurance reached 47 million at last count, 16 percent of the population. The cost of health insurance is rising two to three times faster than inflation and is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the country. We pay more and get less medical care than the rest of the industrialized world. The total per capita healthcare cost in the United States exceeds the healthcare expense per person in all other full-care countries.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that as many as 18,000 Americans die prematurely each year because they do not have health insurance. This figure does not include those who die prematurely each year because their insurers delay, diminish or deny payment for promised benefits. Reports about people who die unnecessarily from services denied or delayed by insurance companies seldom receive broad coverage in the corporate media. Lack of media coverage has led to a nation of people uninformed about how national health and disability policies are controlled by the private insurance industry and how government regulators are powerless to do anything about it.

If industrialized countries around the world offer healthcare as a basic right, why is full healthcare not happening in the United States? Private insurance companies are motivated to make as much money as possible and do so by systematically delaying, diminishing and denying payment for promised services, and blaming individuals for their own misfortune.

On the boards of directors of the nine largest insurance companies are 113 people. These directors are some of the richest people in the world. They hold 150 past and/or present positions with major financial or investment institutions in the United States, including such major firms as JPMorgan, Citigroup, Lord Abbett, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Additionally, these board members have connections to some of the largest corporations in the world, including General Motors, IBM, Ford, Microsoft and Coca-Cola. The combined affiliations among these 113 health-insurance directors represented revenue of over $2.5 trillion in 2006.

As some of the richest, most powerful people in America, healthcare executives dominate health policy with their campaign donations and active lobbying efforts. They spend millions to keep themselves in the health-insurance delivery business despite overwhelming evidence that we would all be better off without them. They use these profits to propagandize the American public and influence voters through the scare tactic of invoking some Soviet-era form of "socialized medicine" and predicting long delays in service, supposedly a bane of single-payer systems.

The single-payer advocacy group, Physicians for a National Health Program, reports that private insurance corporations spend an enormous amount of money on business-oriented expenses rather than health-related investments. A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that spending for administrative costs associated with healthcare amount to over $320 billion per year, or about 31 percent of healthcare costs in the United States overall. The administrative costs in the Canadian national healthcare system amount to 16.7 percent, or about half of the administrative overhead in the United States.

Countries with common pool or single payer healthcare systems provide similar levels of service to every person. In such countries, it is the responsibility of society as a whole to provide healthcare for each individual.

People in the United States have a choice. We can continue with a high-cost, profit-driven private-insurance healthcare system leaving millions to languish without care and millions more to face the frustrations of systematic delays, diminished care and denials of promised benefits. Alternatively, we can build a common pool healthcare system that provides necessary health care goods to everyone for less than what we are now paying.

Let's find and support the politicians who will provide healthcare for all outside of corporate fat-cat control.

Peter Phillips is a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and director of Project Censored. Bridget Thornton is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Studies. All statements above are fully documented in their new study "Practices in Health Care and Disability Insurance: Delay, Diminish Deny and Blame." To learn more, go to www.projectcensored.org.

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