Our ongoing troubles with health care stem from an unwillingness to deal with certain facts. One of those facts is scarcity. “Scarcity” is a term from economics, and it refers to the fact that there is never enough of anything to satisfy every possible desire — the universe holds only so much, and human desire has a way of outgrowing whatever we have. So we have to come up with a way of dividing up that which is scarce. We have tried many different ways of doing that — war, caste systems, central planning — though mostly we’ve relied on the fact that everybody wants lots of different things, which makes it possible to trade. But buying and selling stuff is not, to be sure, the only way to divide up that which is scarce.
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We pride ourselves on being a compassionate society, and insurance companies use this to manipulate us into sharing the costs of other people’s excessive health care. Meanwhile, 5 percent of Americans generate more than 50 percent of health care expenses. Why shouldn’t a patient who continues to see me unnecessarily pay more?
The government’s job is to maintain public health and safety. It should ensure that insurance plans include mandatory benefits like emergency, epidemic, vaccine and addiction coverage. The Republican bill would let states apply for waivers to define these benefits differently; it would be a big mistake to drop such coverage entirely.
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Two years ago, I was a 7-month-pregnant widow with one toddler who got a letter two weeks after my husband died informing me I’d lost my third or fourth health insurance plan since the ACA passed. If you’ll remember, the promise was that I could keep my plan if I liked it. I could not. While the ACA has helped millions of people, there are many of us—many with far fewer resources than I—who now have much more expensive, less effective, junkier, nearly unusable plans than we had back when our allegedly “junk” plans were outlawed. Again, we are not the only ACA story. But we are part of the story, we were sold a bill of goods, and we’re often overlooked.
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