THE BLOG

Selling Health Care Reform to the Selfish

05/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This week on Hardbal, Chris Matthews voiced his frustration that Democratic leaders have been hesitant to sell health insurance reform as simply doing the right thing, and that those of us who are more fortunate should be willing to sacrifice for those among us getting shut out of the system. For his part, President Obama argued in his Fox News interview that health insurance reform is the right thing to do. I agree with this sentiment, but I believe health insurance reform can honestly be sold just as strongly to the self-interested. Why is that? Because under the present system, all of us with a job and health insurance are already paying - a lot - to provide health care to those without. We need to change the system.

George W. Bush hit the nail on the head a couple of years ago when he noted, unwittingly, that everyone in the United States actually has access to health care, because the poorest Americans and those without health insurance go to the emergency room when they get sick enough or when they suffer a serious accident. So, when the young guy with a motorcycle and a bumper sticker reading "Helmet Laws Suck" - the guy who is young and healthy and feels he doesn't need to buy health insurance - smashes his skull on the pavement, he's taken to the emergency room for care. The older overweight fellow with diabetes and no insurance goes untreated, until he's so sick that he needs to go to the emergency room, and is told he needs an expensive amputation to save his life.

Who is paying for these procedures? We are! Now! Why do you think an aspirin costs more than a dollar during a hospital stay? Because it costs the hospital more than a dollar? No, it's because hospitals are desperate to make up the money they are losing to provide care to people who are uninsured and can't afford to pay. The young guy on the motorcycle and the older guy with diabetes get their massive bill from the insurance company, and either the government pays it (that's us), or they go bankrupt. So, the hospital charges more money to the insurance companies. The insurance companies pass on the costs in higher premiums, which the rest of us pay. Just like the extra amounts all of us have to pay for uninsured motorists' coverage on our auto insurance, all of us are paying more for "uninsured patients'" coverage - and then some - because in the case of health insurance, there are a lot more people who are going around uninsured. On top of this, all of us are paying more than we should under present medicaid coverage, because people are discouraged from going for help until they are sicker than they need to be and treatment is more expensive. So George W. Bush was right. Access to health care is "universal", once our uninsured friends are sick or hurt enough to go to the emergency room. And those of us with a job and insurance are paying top dollar to provide that universal access.

So, why not try a system where those of us with a job and insurance actually share the burden with those among us who are healthy and have a job, but now would rather just gamble that they don't get sick or hurt? Why not try a system where the "access" to health care -access we are paying for already - comes at a point of time when patients aren't desperately ill and care is relatively efficient and inexpensive?

Those who are lined up against President Obama and meaningful change keep trying to convince working people that change is against their own financial interest, and that change will require more sacrifice from them, when in fact the opposite is true. We've tried it their way for a decade, and it doesn't work. Let's try something different. No one thinks this bill is perfect, but it's time to begin the process of change.