Superbowl for Geeks

One of the lawyers that works at my company called last week the Superbowl for Geeks.  Made me laugh, but also I identified with it.  Because I probably do have a geek-like fascination with the health reform law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), that came into being about two years ago.  Its future, now in the hands of our Supreme Court, definitely has my attention.  Is requiring people to buy health insurance (or pay a penalty) constitutional?  The Court listened to the arguments for and against last week.  We’ll find out what they believe soon.

That Americans have access to quality, affordable healthcare has been a passion of mine for some time.  In college I had that great benefit called the infirmary.  How wonderful it was to go and get all the Sudafed I could ever want, for free!  I recommended it to all my friends.  (Trivia:  Singer James Taylor’s dad headed it up when I was at Carolina, and was my doctor once.) And yes, since Sudafed was free, I took more than I needed.  Just because I could.  (And no, there was no meth lab involved.)

Then I got my first real job out of college that offered insurance benefits, and I had to figure out things like what a deductible was.  Funnily enough, there were not a lot of people around who could explain it to me well.  It wasn’t free, but still I found it quite cool to see how much of my bill my insurance covered! 

I’ve been in the insurance business since 1983.  My first job was paying claims.  It gave me a good idea of just why we need coverage.  While I wasn’t a big health care consumer, some other people I paid claims for had bills that were astronomical!   Several years after I left the claims department for marketing, I met the daughter of a guy who worked at a company I had paid claims for.  He had major health problems.  I still knew his social security number five years later! He had that many claims and with every bill I needed to enter his social security number. (Don’t worry….claims examiners don’t know social security numbers today.   And most claims are paid without humans touching them!)  The money they saved on one healthy person like me wouldn’t have covered this man’s bills.  There needed to be a lot of mes in the pool.  In this day when bills can hit the millions, we need lots and lots and lots of mes.  High costs, high premiums.

While I can’t say that I have read every sentence of the PPACA, which stands at over 2,000 pages, I have  read most of it.  Definitely more than the average American.   My personal assessment is that it is surprisingly a good law (though with too much unnecessary baggage attached.)  It is also a very integrated law.  For example, strike down the individual mandate, and you can’t implement the part that says there will be no pre-existing conditions.  Insurance must always have a balance of risk, which means that there needs to be lots of healthy people in the system to pay for those who are sick or injured, and if someone can just wait until they need coverage to purchase it, none of us will be able to afford coverage.  And that will just be the first of the house of cards to tumble down.

I’ve wracked my brain over the years trying to figure out a way that we can improve our healthcare system.  Will this law do it?  I don’t know.  But our current system has some breaks and we need to figure out a way to fix them.  There are a lot of people who are uninsured and under-insured.  Those of us who have health coverage are already paying extra for those who receive service and don’t pay their bills and for shortages that appear elsewhere.  Other than the emergency room, there are not a lot of other options for the uninsured who are not wealthy.  Some doctors see some people pro bono, there are a few free clinics, but not enough to fully service all who need care. But everyone who is uninsured is not sick.  A lot of the uninsured are healthy.  For now.  That can change overnight…..and it’s not insurance if they can wait until they need it to purchase it, so our system can’t just wait until then to open the doors to them.  What happens to our system if all of the uninsured are added?  Theoretically they will be able to get care more efficiently and the cost of coverage will go down for us all.  That I would like to see.

I have no clue as to what the feeling of the court will be.  I am not even positive what I want it to be.  There are quite a few possible scenarios as to what can happen.  I am admittedly intrigued as to whether the system the PPACA lays out can work.  While not perfect, it shakes up our current system and that system needs to be shaken up.  But regardless of the court’s decision, this geek will be paying attention and will be involved in making the aftermath as good as possible for as many as I can.  For I believe eventually we will find a solution to the healthcare problem.  And I know I am not alone in my passion.   I believe people in this country deserve accessible and affordable healthcare.  As good as we can give, to as many as we can give.   And I like the idea of us all being invested in paying for it.

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