Friday, June 19, 2009

Billions in profits, millions of lives

Having lived in Canada for a year and a half and in England for almost two years, I can tell you firsthand that National Health Care or government-controlled health care really doesn't work very well.

In theory, it sounds great: You get sick, you go to the doctor, he or she takes care of you, and you go home. It's free!

Well, that might be the case if you have a minor ailment like a sore throat or the flu, but if you have a serious illness like cancer or heart disease-- that is, a major illness that needs special treatment-- you may have to wait in line for that treatment.

My mother-in-law, who lives in London, is one example. Many years ago, she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy and radiation. Ten years later, a tumor was discovered to be growing where her breast had been removed. The doctor decided to try more radiation before scheduling an operation.

So he scheduled her for radiation treatments-- in three months. Three months?! We all knew she could be dead in three months.  It was cancer.  It could metastasize to her lungs, brain or liver.  It took a number of phone calls to the doctor in England and a little muscle from some high-profile friends to get my mother-in-law in for radiation two weeks later.

Seventeen years later, she's still alive and doing very well. (I could do a number of mother-in-law jokes right now but I won't.)

Of course, all of this relates to President Obama and health care reform.  I’ve been doing some research in these health care and insurance issues and just finished reading a book written by Richard E. Ungar. “Understanding The Health Care Debate” is about health care and insurance companies.  It’s fascinating-- and I’m not just saying that because Ric’s been a friend for more than 20 years.

Here’s a quote from the book (I hope Ric won't mind, and if he does, I just won't answer the phone. Caller ID the best invention in the 21th century):

                   In 2006, the health insurance industry made a collective profit of $15 billion--
                   a 1,084 percent increase in five years. Here are the profit numbers for the top
                   four in 2007 as listed by Fortune Magazine:

                           1. United Health Group -- $ 4.159 Billion.

                   United Health’s companies include Oxford, PacifiCare, IBA, AmeriChoice,
                   Evercare, Ovations, MAMSI and Ingenix, a healthcare data company.

                           2. WellPoint -- $ 3.095 Billion.

                   Wellpoint’s companies include all of the BLUES across the US, including
                   Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, Blue
                   Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, Empire HealthChoice Assurance, Healthy
                   Alliance, and others.

                           3. Aetna Inc. -- $ 1.702 Billion.

                           4. CIGNA Corp -- $ 1.155 Billion.

Need I say more?