Tom’s story

On Feb 6th, my Dad lost his life to cancer. Radiation and surgery were not effective so he started taking a monthly hormone treatment. The good news was that he had a really good insurance plan that mostly paid for a treatment that seemed to be working. The bad news was that the cost of this treatment was 3000 dollars per injection. We were literally buying time.

After a problem came up with his kidneys, my Dad needed surgery.The cost of a nursing and rehabilitation facility for my parents was 9000 dollars per person per month. When we were able to move them into an assisted living facility the cost dropped to approximately $5500 per month. Ouch.

There are plenty of other absurd prices I can cite. As an Americorps financial educator, I was constantly hearing stories about how absurd costs have become. A hospital costs more than 4000 dollars per night. The intensive care unit costs more than 30 thousand dollars per night. By the gram, asthma medication costs more than gold. You get the point. Health care costs are absurd. What’s less obvious is how these costs are stripping individuals of their wealth more effectively than any tax ever did.

In addition to bankrupting millions of individuals, escalating health care costs are responsible for an enormous increase in federal spending. I’m referring to Medicare and Medicaid. By reducing health care costs we will reduce federal spending. Period. This fact should be central to the debates over health care reform AND the federal budget.

Nation wide there has been a hue and cry over a federal requirement for citizens to purchase health insurance. It’s been pretty noisy in our own state legislature too. There is a solution that seems to be missing from the debate in Helena. If the feds are going to make Montanans buy health insurance why not have our state administer a non-profit health insurance policy?

A Montana public option for health insurance could work like this. Residents who sign up and pay for a policy would waive their right to sue doctors and hospitals for malpractice. This would lower insurance costs for the health care providers and (more importantly) prevent the extra testing and treatments associated with “defensive medicine.” The cost savings would keep premiums down.

As I envision it, a Montana administered public option would need to be self sufficient from ratepayers premiums after a start up period of two to three years.Funds for a Montana public option would also need to be kept separate from the general fund and used ONLY for paying providers and fund administration costs. This is possible.

I can imagine the grumbling over this proposal. There are a lot of Montanans who think that the government can’t run anything efficiently. That’s understandable, but these folks would still have the choice of paying their health insurance dollars to the private bureaucracy of their choice.

Offering a public option in this manner would help a lot of Montanans.

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