Health Care Bill — Where is the reform?

Don’t let anyone fool you — Health Care reform is essential. Why? Because from spending 1 out of $20 on health care in 1960 we have arrived at a point that we are spending 1 out of every $6 on health care now. And of course, this cost is expected to sky rocket. President Obama is right — exponentially growing health care costs, completely independent of making health care universal, will sink the American economy.

Strangely enough though, the current bill being considered by the House of Representatives is not about reform driving cost down and funding universal health care but universal health care without any meaningful reform. 

 Section 1 — CBO Report

To build the case though, allow me to start with some key facts and data points from the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) “Long Term Budget Outlook” published in 2007 regarding Health Care:

1. On Total Health Care Spending

A> “Total spending on health care in the United States, including both private and public spending, increased from 4.7 percent of GDP in 1960 to 14.9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data are available.”  That is a greater than 300% increase in share of spending on health care obviously at a loss to other facets of life.

B> The report identifies the primary cause for this increase as, “Most analysts agree that the most important factor contributing to the growth in health care spending in recent decades has been the emergence, adoption, and widespread diffusion of new medical technologies and services.”

C> Other factors for cost increase identified in the report are rise in disposable family income, rise in insurance coverage and aging of the population.

2. On  Medicare Program

A> Overview of Medicare: “Medicare provides federal health insurance for nearly 43 million people who are aged (about 85 percent of enrollees) or disabled or who have end-stage renal disease. The elderly become eligible for Medicare at age 65; the disabled become eligible 24 months after their Social Security benefits start.”

B> Medicare is funded via various sources, payroll tax of 2.9% of taxable income, being a primary source. Think of it as money you are putting aside to be paid for medical care when you get old or, god forbid, disabled. CBO report also states, “As of June 2007, 18 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in private health plans under the Medicare Advantage program,” i.e. were paying additional for enhanced coverage.

C> In 2006, Medicare spending totaled $382 billion.

3. On Medicaid Program

A> Medicaid is a joint federal–state program that pays for health care services for a variety of low-income individuals. The program was created in 1965 by the same legislation that created Medicare, replacing an earlier program of federal grants to states to provide medical care to people who have low income. The federal government’s share of Medicaid’s spending for benefits varies among the states and currently averages 57 percent.

B> In 2006, the total spending was $160.9B and total beneficiaries were 60.9M people. Out of which children accounted for 29.5M – approx. 50%.

Section 2 — some more key data points:

1. Americans spend $2.5T (trillion) annually on healthcare.

2. Medicaid is only 6.7% of the total healthcare bill for USA and hence hardly the cause for the crisis.

3. Kaiser Health Tracking Poll from June 2009 finds, “Struggling to afford needed care — The survey continues to find that a majority of Americans (55 %) say that they or another member of their household have put off some sort of needed medical care because of the cost over the past 12 months. About 1 in 4 say they have skipped a recommended test or treatment, and a similar percentage have chosen not to fill a prescription. 26% say they or a family member had problems paying medical bills over the past year, similar to the proportion reporting problems in our April tracking survey. This number rises to nearly half (48 %) among those suffering health problems, and is nearly as high (43 percent) among the uninsured.

Section 3 — Key observations based upon the above data

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Average Joe

Actually, Joe Biden is not even average. He is way below average. Let me just break the news — he comes in last, at the bottom, no one behind him. I am of course talking about his Net Income and Net Worth when compared to other Senators.

Biden’s tax returns for 2008 showed earnings of only $269,256 and paid $46,952 in federally taxes.  The salary paid to a US Senator by us, the tax payers is, $169,300. I believe the remainder of Biden’s income is from teaching engagements in local colleges in Delaware. His net worth could possibly be negative.

And quite honestly, that’s the way I like my Vice President.  While he still makes more than the average American — which he should given his responsibilities — he is the closest to understanding what an average person’s daily trials and tribulations are like.

  Being a US Senator doesn’t require filing of exact value of assets, instead a range for each asset is provided. Hence it is difficult to know he exact net worth of a Senator but it is very easy to decipher who is filthy rich, very rich and rich (note: there are no poor senators — except of course for Mr. Biden in 2008 given Senator standards).

So that you get an idea, the richest five and their avg. net worth (all data from 2006):

1 Herb Kohl (D-Wis) (owner of Kohl’s Dept store)   $336,885,513  
2 John Kerry (D-Mass) (wife owns Heinz Ketchup)   $267,789,805  
3 Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass)   $102,822,519  
4 Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa)   $90,713,011  
5 Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif)   $79,555,657  

Interestingly enough, all five are Democrats but lest you get carried away, Republicans make a fine recovery and occupy 12 out of top 25 spots.  The 25th rank goes to:

25 Maria Cantwell (D-Wash)   $6,181,006  

And the 75th, spot goes to:

75 Patty Murray (D-Wash)   $641,509  

So the questions we really need to ask are:

1. Is it only the rich that can make it to the Senate?

2. Or, is it getting elected that somehow allows for Senators to get rich? (This can be found out by looking at historical records, may be one of the readers who is in the know can comment on this.)

3. Most importantly, is democracy actuallya pseudo-aristocracy? Pseudo because I do believe we are, on the average, much better off than under a true aristocracy.

4.  First a statement then a question. Statement: I believe America till recently has not been class envious, i.e. rich have not been envied for their wealth but actually look upon as inspiration and American ideals promoted all to aspire to be rich. Question: With the recently acquired knowledge of how many rich people got rich and the recently acquired loss of their own net worth, will Americans start thinking differently?

I have opinions (of course!), but what do you think?

Data source: http://www.opensecrets.org/ (click on Politicians and Elections –> Net Worth)