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Why I Supported the Health Care Bill

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Over the past five-seven years, my interest in health care reform moved from the abstract to the personal, and I thought it was worth jotting down the reasons I personally am thrilled by the passage of this first effort at health insurance reform on Sunday:

1. My Family Was Denied Coverage

In 2005, after moving back to the United States from London, England, my family looked to buy a health insurance policy. I had left my previous job, and was getting ready to launch my own startup. But there was going to be a year or so where we needed to buy private insurance.

We applied to three different insurance companies, with help from a good college friend who is an insurance broker and knows how to work the system. But we were nevertheless denied coverage because my then 7 year old daughter had a pre-existing condition (a microscopic hole in her heart called a “VSD” which thankfully has had no effect on her life, or life expectancy, or is ever likely to require medical care — she’s a completely normal kid).

It’s a real moment of anguish and anger when, as a parent, you feel you can’t get health coverage for a child. Total helplessness.  In our case we were lucky — we were able to extend insurance from my previous job (albeit at ridiculously high rates) and my new start-up was able to offer health insurance more quickly than I’d expected.

But I’ve often thought about the many, many people who just don’t have those options available to them. With the bill signed today by President Obama, families like ours won’t have to face those kinds of horrible choices going forward.

2. We Used the NHS in England and Loved It

A common argument — no, stratagem — of those opposed to Health Insurance reform is to stoke the fears about “nationalized” health care and how awful it is. First off, as I’ll detail in a moment, that argument is misplaced anyway as the bill signed into law today does not — repeat, does not — create a nationalized health care system like those in Canada or the UK.

But for fun let’s stipulate that it does. My experience in London, where the NHS was our family’s primary health care provider for three years (2002-05), suggests that it’s every bit as good as the US system. Our doctors were terrific, every bit as good as any doctor we had in Seattle or San Francisco. When our kids got sick, they got in to see their pediatrician immediately, just as fast as in the States and sometimes faster. And it cost us… nothing. It was covered through taxes we paid while living in the UK, which were about the same level as in the US.

Some argue “Yeah, but the system sucks for more complex or critical care.” We personally did not have to use the NHS for any major surgeries or critical medical care; but friends did (heart attacks, hip replacements, cancer treatments) and reports from them were nothing but positive.

The way you know that this is just fear mongering by opponents of health insurance reform is to consider this question: exactly how many politicians in the UK, Europe, Japan, and Canada of the left, right or center have been elected to office on a platform to replace their countries’ health care systems with one similar to the system we’ve had in the US the last 40 years? I’m not sure there are any names on that list.

The truth is, people in the Canada or the UK have no desire to get rid of their nationalized health care system and replace it with a private insurance market like ours. They just want to improve what they have.

Last, as I noted, the argument is specious anyway, because the law passed this weekend does not created a nationalized health care system (to the disappointment of many liberals). Rather, it reforms how health insurance works in this country, makes it impossible for insurers to deny (or drop you from) coverage based on pre-existing illnesses, helps the poor pay for private insurance if they don’t have it through their employers, and requires everyone to buy insurance (just like we do already for the privilege of driving a car) to spread the risks and keep the costs contained.

If you’re going to fear monger on this bill, you’ll have to cite examples of how horrible the health care systems are in Switzerland and Japan (which are closest to the type of system we’ll have with the new bill). My personal view, based on personal experience, is that having a comprehensive government option similar to those offered in other countries will improve our health care system overall. This bill didn’t provide this; but maybe it’ll tamp down the irrational fears people are peddling, and we can get there someday.

3.  Health Insurance is the #1 Problem for Small Businesses and Startups

Every year, the #1 cost issue my business — and most startups — face is rising health insurance costs. For the past three years we’ve provided insurance, we’ve seen annual increases of over 10%. Rapidly increasing health insurance costs are the #1 reason wages have stagnated for over a decade. We’ve paid more money to employ people each year, but those increased expenditures didn’t go to my employees; they went to Anthem Blue Cross. I know this bill won’t fix cost issues, at least not right away. But as many independent health care experts and economists have pointed out, there are more initiatives in this bill aimed reducing health care costs than any other in the past 40 years.

This bill will also help people who want to take some risk, and start their own business, to do just that without the fear of not having health care coverage for themselves or their families. Think of how many people have stayed in their jobs just because, or mainly because, they wanted to keep their employer-provided insurance coverage? That kind of indentured servitude can come to an end, now, and our economy will be more vibrant because of it.

Finally, there is this simple argument. Our system costs twice as much as a percentage of GDP compared to other industrialized countries, with no — that is, zero — proof that the care we get is any better. Why would anyone continue with that kind of bloated, expensive, unproductive system that benefits the big health insurance companies most of all? This new law won’t be a panacea, but it will be a start.

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