In response to President Obama's Health Care Reform address this week to a joint session of Congress, the Cato Institute recommended that, in order to help achieve the goal of cost control in comprehensive health care, "(p)eople should be allowed to purchase health insurance across state lines," noting that "(o)ne study estimated that that adjustment alone could cover 17 million uninsured Americans without costing taxpayers a dime." http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/09/08/mr-president-here-is-our-answer/
Unfortunately, the insurance industry is regulated on a State level, so such across-state-lines purchase of health insurance is currently not possible.
II. Financial Reform - and Insurance
As I mentioned recently in the first of a four part Financial Reform legislative review series, http://womensfinancialplanning.blogspot.com/2009/07/obama-administration-financial.html State regulation of insurance companies makes regulatory oversight very difficult. That difficulty in regulating this industry contributed in large part to the financial meltdown that began last year, and continues today.
III. Health Care Reform Meets Financial Reform - with Insurance
Insurance regulation is again brought to the forefront as we discuss means to achieving bi-partisan support for the adoption of comprehensive health care reform in the United States, just as it was when financial regulation was being discussed. And, as this reemerges, we find Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, who guided that institution through the recent financial meltdown, saying:
"I'm somewhat disappointed that we've lost a little of the steam about getting financial reform. We do need system-risk management." http://www.cnbc.com/id/32799393 Risk management, by the way, is just another way of saying 'insurance.'
These are complex times. There are complex domestic issues that require consideration on many fronts.
IV. Can We Do More Than One Thing At a Time?
It is not appropriate to say, "Since we've avoided the seizing up of the financial markets, now we can concentrate on health care." We cannot discuss the health care without discussing the insurance industry - and a large part of financial meltdown involved abuses from industry.
To date, no financial regulation reform has passed. Every US woman and man has a stake in this. It was with $180 billion of your money that insurance giant American International Group ("AIG") was bailed out, after having issued innumerable credit default swaps. What were those? They were unregulated promises by AIG to guarantee mortgage payments - for which they had no way of paying when the mortgages defaulted. In other words, AIG (and many others) collected fees for promises they made, but could not keep.
Thus, the insurance industry is at the heart of both the financial crisis and the health care debate. We must accept that both are critical components of our economic survival.
I have heard no compelling argument for keeping the insurance industry regulated at the State level. That is too complex from a regulatory perspective, and non-competitive from a health insurance perspective. Both sides of the political aisle seem to agree on that.
V. What Action Can You Take?
First, become acquainted with the issues. The administration's financial reform proposal is referenced and discussed at the link provided above in Section II. Whatever your opinion with respect to the version of health care legislation you support, it is likely, unless you own or lobby for an insurance company, that you support the free market competition that will result from the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines.
If you refer to Open Secrets, a non-partisan group referenced recently in an article by the Wall St. Journal http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=c you will see that the two top industries spending the highest number of lobbying dollars to influence legislation are:
- Finance, Insurance & Real Estate $3.7 billion
- Health $3.55 billion
Remember that your Congressional representatives work for you, not lobbyists, and that it is you who pays for their health insurance, which is likely far superior to yours. To voice your opinion on Federal regulation of the insurance industry, here is a list of your representatives, with their email addresses http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/
As always, your comments and suggestions are most welcome.