By now you’ve heard the competing campaign slogans. Obama wants a government takeover of healthcare. Romney wants to turn it all over to big business. And while both claims are elephant-sized exaggerations, the best course might be something neither is talking about: nonprofit health care plan providers.
In a survey published this week in the November issue of Consumer Reports, all of the top 10 insurance plans in America were operated by nonprofit organizations (NPO), including several plans offered by Kaiser and Harvard Pilgrim.
In the political debate over who should provide healthcare for Americans, the theme of nonprofit health care gets less attention as campaign politicking has focused on two ends of the spectrum: government-run health care versus for-profit health insurance.
But take away the profit-motive and shareholders, and often nonprofit organizations can better focus on the mission to provide health care rather than drive revenue, some medical consumer experts say. Perhaps that's why NPO health insurance has proven so popular. At least 40 percent of Americans who have private insurance have a non-profit provider, according to the Alliance for Advancing Nonprofit Health Care, although many may not realize it.
For most Americans, health insurance comes from the government in the form of Medicare or Medicaid or from private insurance either from for profit companies or NPOs. Millions of Americans have no insurance at all, either because they don't qualify for government programs, cant afford private insurance or don't believe they need it.
Under the Affordable Care Act, which will start in 2014, consumers continue to have these choices, and the plan expands government-run programs. Millions of uninsured will also be able to access health insurance through health care exchanges, or online markets where consumers can shop for health insurance among competing plans offered by private companies as well as nonprofit organizations.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney's main thrust is to privatize more health care plans by shifting Medicare recipients to voucher programs; consumers would still likely have a choice between private and NPO-run healthcare.
Yet as the debate continues, perhaps the better question for the candidates is not the rhetoric over public vs. private, but what kind of organization is offering the best kind of care and how can that be scaled to provide affordable access for most Americans.
In the Consumer Reports survey, the top-scoring brand in the survey was Kaiser, a nonprofit, integrated health care provider available to consumers in at least nine states, including California and Colorado. The top-ranked plan in the country was the Harvard Pilgrim HMO, which is available to residents of Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.
For-profit brands like Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare did not fare as well in the rankings, which included more private plans in the bottom 100 than in the top 100, according to Consumer Reports.
However, nonprofit organizations are hardly a panacea for a health care system that many consider broken. This week, a report from two North Carolina newspapers showed that large nonprofit hospitals in the state have been marking up costly cancer drugs as they corner the market on cancer treatment in the state.
Unemployed doorman Alexis Rodriguez received a bill for $44.8 million from Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center. Thankfully, the outrageous bill was the result of a billing company error, in which they mistakenly put the invoice number in the space where the invoice amount should go.
Celina Aarons of South Florida received a 43-page cell phone bill adding up to $201,000. The bill was no mistake. Aarons, who also has her two deaf-mute brothers on her plan, forgot to change their data to international after the pair spent two weeks in Canada, accruing up to $2,000 in data charges.
After Loretta Robinson's son was killed by a drunk driver, she was billed for various charges, including a $50 charge to clean up her son's blood from the road along with charges to tow and store the suspect's vehicle after the incident.
Alina Simone thought she didn't have to worry about her cell phone bill as she had set up auto bill-pay. However, when she finally checked her statement, she discovered that she was being charged per text message, racking up more than $700 in fees despite the fact that her plan entitled her to 1,000 free texts per month.
A Middletown, Ohio teen got caught charging over $37,000 worth of candy to his high school's purchasing number. After the company, The Goodies Factory, became suspicious, authorities arrested the 18-year-old at his home when he went to receive the empty package.
Breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay was arrested after she refused to pay a $280 medical bill, which was sent to her by accident.
A New Mexico woman was billed for a mandatory body cavity search after being accused of concealing heroin. The search turned up nothing and the woman was not arrested or charged, however she received a bill for $1,122 from the hospital that performed the search.
An Ohio man was charged over $16,000,000 by Time Warner Cable after he accrued some odd charges for watching the March Madness tournament. The bill was eventually blamed on human error.