Preaching to the Opposition – Rick Ungar Strikes Again

If he’s not careful, political writer and contributor to Forbes and The Washington Monthly, regular commentator on Fox News, and friend of health insurance whistleblower and single-payer advocate Wendell Potter, might find squads of United Healthcare, Wellpoint, or Aetna thugs waiting for him around a corner.

First, he wrote a great column about how a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring insurance companies to spend 80% of income on actual health care (rather than million-dollar salaries for their CEOs, corporate jets, or lobbying) would lead to single-payer health care.

Then he wrote about the good news/bad news report of a decrease in medical spending since 2010. He writes, “The headline is that health care spending grew at only 3.9 percent in 2010—just .1 percent more than the rate of growth in 2009. Combine the numbers from 2009 and 2010 and we’re looking at the slowest two-year rate of growth since the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began keeping tabs on these numbers 51 years ago.

“So, why am I feeling so “blah” about it all?

“Because as much as I would like to believe that the results are due to good government or the private markets making some sort of change to bring down the out-of-control advancement in the costs of medical care, I know very well that the real reason we spent less is because we simply had less to spend.

“When people aren’t working; when people are uninsured; and when people are under-insured, you don’t have to be a trained actuary to understand that people are forced to put their medical issues and concerns to the side and hope for the best. Thus, there is less spending on medical care because there are fewer people with enough insurance coverage or money in their pocket to pay for the care they need.”

I can personally attest to that. In 2009, my co-pay to see any doctor was $10 per visit. I spent almost 12% of my income on health insurance and health care in 2009, though I had the “gold standard” Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO.

In 2010, co-pays doubled to $20 to see my primary care doc and quadrupled to $40 to see any of the five “specialists” I’m supposed to see at least once a year. I stopped seeing my primary care doc every three months for monitoring of my Type II diabetes, blood pressure, and primary biliary cirrhosis, cutting back to every six months. Because $40 is half my weekly food budget, visits to my ophthalmologist, dermatologist, rheumatologist, podiatrist, chiropractor, and orthopedic surgeon were eliminated. The only specialist I saw in 2011 was my retina specialist because I admit to being scared as hell of going blind. He was kind enough to squeeze in the laser surgery necessary for macular edema on the same day, so that I wouldn’t have to pay a separate co-pay. So my percentage spent on insurance and health care in 2011 went down to about 7%.

Thankfully, I’m not in any new pain, noticing new symptoms, or seeing elevations in blood sugar or pressure. I also switched from the PPO to an HMO in October – even though the co-pays are still high, I now only pay $20 per paycheck, rather than $100, for the premium. Of course, if something should happen that seems to require a visit to the doctor, I would now have to see my primary care doctor for a referral to a specialist, thus netting $60 in co-pays. I’ll be handling whatever comes up myself, until I pass out or die.

But isn’t that what Republicans/conservatives/evangelicals want anyway? It would be, after all, the most efficient cost-cutting measure if all the expensively and/or chronically sick people would just hurry up and die. Might help with those unemployment, homelessness, and mental health problems too.

On January 14, I e-mailed Rick Ungar to tell him I appreciate his work and how hard it must be to write like he does for Forbes, as well as to solicit his support for DUH. Much to my delight, he responded almost immediately:
Hi Sue-
Thanks for the note.

I imagine it won’t be too difficult to get me to your Oct event in DC. Sounds like fun!

It actually is not difficult for me to write for a magazine like Forbes. I have never much enjoyed preaching to the converted and find it way more interesting to try and persuade among those who find it difficult to be persuaded. As a result, I tend to gravitate to media opportunities where I might not be expected to show up. This would explain my appearing every Saturday on Fox News!

I hope you’ll stay in touch and let me know how your plans are proceeding. Please feel free to call on me if there is anything I can do to help.

All the best,
Rick

I certainly will stay in touch and I’ll look forward to shaking his hand at DUH. Until then, I hope he continues to dare to write and speak sense to those who are so resistant to it. Having had pleasant, civilized conversations with Republicans myself, I know not only the value, but the satisfaction of making headway with the opposition who will have to become allies if single-payer is ever going to be achieved. I might even make myself watch Fox News!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , by Sue. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue

Sue Saltmarsh is 56, Copy Editor of Positively Aware, the HIV treatment and wellness journal published by Chicago's non-profit AIDS service agency, TPAN. She has worked in the HIV field for over 16 years, first as a Certified Clinical Herbalist and energy therapist at AIDS Alternative Health Project and Project Vida, then at TPAN. Inspired by AIDS activists David Barr and Gregg Gonsalves who called for a massive demonstration in Washington during the International AIDS Conference in July 2012, and fueled by her own and others' experiences with the current healthcare system, she asked herself, "Does America need a new healthcare system?" and the answer, "DUH." was born. Impatient with the process and pace of the single-payer movement in general, she gathered a group of activists from the HIV community, medical providers, the single-payer community, healthcare consumers, and the creative Arts to be "midwives" in bringing DUH to life. When accused of being naive, idealistic, unrealistic, or just plain crazy, she will remind you that social change is never the result of complacency. And in the words of soon-to-be-President of the United States of South Carolina, Stephen Colbert, "Just because something's difficult, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it."

Comments are closed.