When Florida ACORN member Tamecka Pierce first got her employer-provided health insurance, she was ecstatic. No more dealing with the limitations and bureaucracy of the Medicaid system, which had been her sole option as an unemployed single mother with three children.
That joy was short lived. Just after she was accepted into the Blue Cross/Blue Shield program, she was diagnosed with lupus, an auto-immune disease in which the body slowly eats away at itself. The treatment is complex, ever-shifting, and life-long as there is no cure.
Predictably, Blue Cross/Blue Shield spent months fighting not to cover Tamecka. When she finally won, her problems didn’t end. As the sole breadwinner, money is always an issue. On a monthly basis, Tamecka found herself choosing between medications and visits to specialist, or between health care and other bills.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
If there were an adequate public health care plan, there’s a good chance that Tamecka could manage her lupus without having to make the kinds of choices she’s had to make to date. That’s why she and Florida ACORN are members of Health Care for America Now (HCAN) (ACORN members are a part of 16 state HCAN coalitions, playing the lead role in six) and are helping to fight for real health care reform.
Today, ACORN and HCAN are releasing a report documenting the way in which the increasing consolidation in the health insurance industry in driving up premiums and how the resulting profits are being used to compensate top executives and shareholders rather than provide adequate coverage for people like Tamecka.
As the report makes clear, a primary factor in the skyrocketing costs of health care – premiums have increased 87% over the past 6 years – is the stunning lack of competition. The American Medical Association reports 95 percent of insurance markets in the United States are now highly concentrated.
Where are our premiums going in this non-competitive marketplace? Straight into corporate profits. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, profits at 13 of the country’s largest publicly-traded health insurance companies in 2007 rose 405 percent from 2000 to 2007, from $3.7 billion to $15 billion.
ACORN and HCAN are proposing the creation of a public health insurance option, which would introduce a healthy dose of competition in the arenas of cost and quality.
As Senator Charles Schumer said today,
“This is the starkest evidence yet that the private health care insurance market is in bad need of some healthy competition,” Senator Schumer said. “A public health insurance option is critical to ensure the greatest amount of choice possible for consumers. We believe that it is fully possible to create a public health insurance plan that delivers all the benefits of increased competition without relying on unfair, built-in advantages. If a level playing field exists, then private insurers will have to compete based on quality of care and pricing, instead of just competing for the healthiest consumers.”
Importantly, a public health insurance plan would challenge the profit-driven industry consolidation while building upon the current health care delivery system in this country. By pursuing this approach, we'd be guaranteeing that the 47 million people now without coverage in this country will have health care, while increasing the overall likelihood of success in reforming the health care system.
You can help fight back against insurance companies and their obscene profits by contacting your elected representatives and letting them know that, at a minimum, real health care reform MUST include a public health plan.
Tamecka Pierce is doing it for herself and her children. As she said, “Lupus isn’t the only thing eating me up about health care!”
Let’s stand with her and seize our best opportunity in decades for health care reform.
Follow Bertha Lewis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@TheBlackInst