The Supreme Court’s decision Monday determining that patients cannot sue Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) in state courts for malpractice or negligence will once again reignite the debate about the status of health care in this country. Underlying the importance of health benefits in the work force, the Center for Survey Research found that 71 percent of the non-retired favored a job with lower salary with health care benefits, while only 21 percent favored a job with a high salary and no benefits.
While most agree health care is an important benefit, the disagreement on how to best provide adequate care to an increasing number of Americans, many without health insurance, differs greatly. Certainly a hot -button issue during this election, the debate over the status of health care in this country is a complex problem not easily solved by either political party.
Unfortunately, I think HMOs often receive undue blame from several Americans regarding their perceptions of health care. After all, as Justice Clarence Thomas indicated in the majority opinion on Monday, the companies, “correctly concluded that, under the terms of the relevant plan, a particular treatment was not covered.” HMOs find themselves in the often-unpopular position of having to balance the employer’s desire to control costs while still providing employees with the best care possible.
An ABC News poll found that, while 54 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the overall quality of health care, 82 percent rated their health care positively, which supports the argument that HMOs are not necessarily the culprit in the public’s opinion of health care.
One of the major changes in health care that Americans did support 2-1 in the same ABC News poll is some sort of universal health care insurance for all Americans. In addition to varying estimates on how much a universal plan would cost, doubts should abound about the ability of the government to manage such a behemoth of a program. In the aftermath of a prescription drug benefit for seniors that is still too difficult for several to understand, is there any reason to believe that the government could efficiently take the helm of a universal health care program?
For those who argue that HMOs foster an environment where “insurers practice medicine” to the disdain of trained medical personnel, a universal health plan would seem to do little to change the situation except, perhaps, to exacerbate it. Until fundamental changes are implemented in the structure and scope of basic health care in America, administrative personnel will continue to make several decisions about care.
If you have read this far you are probably awaiting some well-thought-out and viable solution to the health care problems we face in America. Admittedly, on this topic, I simply don’t have one. One thing is for sure, though; be wary of any politician promising affordable health care for all Americans without concrete and valid details. It is easy to placate an electorate with ideology seemingly without flaw but tough to provide a sound, substantive healthcare policy necessary to make it through Congress. While politicians debate in the policy arena, hospitals continue to see a rise in emergency room visits ultimately costing taxpayers when recipients of care cannot pay.
The issue of health care may not seem important to you, but as a Century Foundation Report indicated, part-time workers, along with those ages 18-24, are most likely to find themselves without health-care benefits. This demographic clearly points to the traditional college-age group. While college loans may seem to be the largest financial concern of graduating students, one major health crisis without insurance can mean years and years of debt above and beyond the cost of a college education.
Aaron Hill is a junior majoring in chemistry. firstname.lastname@example.org