August 2009 Archives

August 7, 2009

Self-Employment, Health Insurance, and the Gov't....

As noted below on this blog, I provide health insurance for my staff because i care about their health, about them as people, and their productivity. I am concerned about the growing cost of health care, in part for that reason. I am also concerned because my health care and that of my spouse keep going up.

Last year, we changed our office policy to Costco, because it cut our rates substantially, even though the insurance comes from the same company I had before - apparently there is enough profit in health insurance that Costco can make something, yet the health insurance carrier [the same one we'd been using] makes a profit, and can still cut my costs. Anyway, last year, by changing policies, slightly increasing the co-pay by another $5, and our cost went up slightly - otherwise, it was scheduled to go up about 15% .

One year later, on our policy anniversary date, our rates will go up about 25% from that. Of all the wackadoodles who complain that a government policy or health coverage will raise their taxes or the deficit, I wonder how many have considered the rapid increase in insurance costs - from the looks of many of the loudest protesters, they are covered by Medicare, a government program they'd fight to the death to keep.

At 15% per year, health care costs will double every 5 years. At 25% [this year's increase], it will double every 3 years. The average is somewhere in between, we hope. The cost of health care and insurance is rising at least 5 times as fast as wages and earnings.

Total health insurance funded by my family will cost about about $26,000 this year, covering 6 people, aged 12 to 66, one of whom is covered by Medicare, so prior years' taxes cover part of the cost. Part of that is paid by my wife's employer, but it ultimately comes out of the money available to pay her a higher salary, just as more the cost of insurance for my employees limits what I can afford to pay them.

Health cost is in crisis because of these rapid increases that seem to be accelerating. Between 1/7th and 1/6th of the nation's economy goes to health care - and we don't have the best health care in the world despite the unsupported assertions of the opponents of reform. It is time to wake up people, and fix a broken system.

Tax breaks, or buying insurance from "out of state" companies that aren't regulated, isn't the answer. We need to get out from under the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the health care industry [drug makers, health insurance, etc.] on things that aren't necessary [advertising, manipulating doctors, profits, huge bonuses, etc.], and vote for substantial changes. When we here that Medicare is rife with fraud, what we don't consider is that the fraud is perpetrated by capitalists [doctors, pharmacists, insurance companies] who are bilking the government system - it isn't the system that is corrupt, its the private sector.

Proposed reform isn't socialism, it's self-preservation. Our auto industry can't compete with the Japanese, in large part because it provides health insurance. Our small businesses are being eaten alive by health insurance costs. Nothing is working but the system of lobbyists bribing our elected representatives. We are being scared by fears of a socialist government, but if you ask people they think that means Communism, as in the USSR - they don't realize that the postal service, police, schools, Medicare, and national parks are all government owned businesses. We, as a society, are so far from socialism that the risk that our government will own most aspects of our economy is merely a myth, designed to scare us into submission.

The "socialism" we are lead to fear is a communist system, where everyone [in theory] earns the same no matter how hard they work, how much they save, how they sacrifice, and how much they create. A tax rate of 50% doesn't stifle competition, hard work, or imagination. In the 1950's, the top Federal tax bracket was 90%. We lowered it to 70%, yet that plus state and local taxes, didn't keep us from making us the most inventive country in the world, or the most economically successful.

Yes, we have taxes that are unfair - all taxes are unfair. The goal is to find a mix between paying for government and not eliminating our desires to improve our economic positions and be more successful than those around us, or our parents. The cost of health care really can't enter into the discussion - it is a problem that needs to be solved and none of the solutions offered by the right are designed to solve that problem. Using tax policy [deductions, credits, etc.] makes taxation more complex and doesn't directly attack the problem - it just ties into the idea that any tax is bad if it hits people with the money to pay it.

Yes, I don't like high taxes, but I also don't like health care costs out of control - does it matter where my money goes? Not really. If the government can get the rapidly rising costs under control, I'm for it - maybe that requires government health care, or maybe it only requires government competition. One way or the other, the problem needs to be fixed.

I am celebrating my 45 year as a registered Republican, but the party is trying my patience. I survived the Bush years, although in some financial disarray to my retirement accounts, but I expect Republicans to be reasonable - I'm about to publically recognize their drive for power makes reasonable thought impossible.

Capitalistic theory operates on the assumption that society advances economically when we are allowed to be rewarded for hard work and inventiveness. The Chinese seem to understand that lesson. What Teddy Roosevelt understood more than 100 years ago, however, is that unregulated capitalism leads to boom and bust cycles, aggressive monopolies, and periodic economic and social disruption. He tried to fight this battle with William Howard Taft, but lost to party politics and big money when he tried to start a 3rd party to do so.

Throughout the 19th Century [the 1800's for some of you], and into the first 30 years of the 20th, we largely had unregulated capitalism, banking, and investing. Every 10 to 15 years there were huge recessions or depressions. The Great Depression started regulation started by Teddy Roosevelt, and the lessons learned sustained those regulations for the next 70 years. The next 75 years, we have had recessions, but nothing like what lack of regulation had produced before. The current recession was headed to Depression until the government realized we need to solve the banking crisis and prime the pump - even George Bush recognized this need, and started the process.

Somewhere, there has to be a mix: Government intervention and control to permit capitalism to flourish without the havoc it is prone to create when it isn't controlled.

The Bush Administration taught us several good lessons: Don't appoint your friends to make decisions just because they are your friends, don't appoint people to positions governing who believe there should be no government, and open government so what it does is transparent - oh, and don't let the regulated draft the regulations.

Now if that sounds like the ravings of a liberal, I'm sorry, but I don't think I've changed that much since I supported Barry Goldwater 45 years ago - the arguments of the conservatives then aren't recognizable to conservatives today. That wing of society has gone over the edge.

Gone are the Republicans like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Everett Dirksen, and others, who didn't want government controlling our daily lives, but understood it served a purpose - in part to protect us from foreign enemies, and in part to provide services it could provide more effectively, more fairly, or more economically, than private industry driven by the profit motive or the need to create economic empires, irrespective of the impact on society.

General Motors has long known it couldn't continue to pay for health care for its employees and retirees, still build cars here and still complete against cars made in strange foreign cultures, like Canada. Part of the imbalance causing our present health crisis is that General Motors shouldn't be in the health care industry, competing against companies like Toyota that aren't. As an employer, I shouldn't be in that industry either.

If Republicans care about their country, as we claim, we need to participate in a process to effectively bring health care costs under control. At present, it looks like we are just trying to repeat our rhetoric [government bad, tax cuts good, pure capitalism perfect], and seeking to regain power. How much more effective could our elected representatives appear if they seemed to be part of the solution, rather than the problem? Trying to take advantage of those simpletons who think Obama isn't an American, or that Congress will pass legislation to kill old people, is a way of gaining power, but not of fixing the problems of society.

What the Conservatives are forcing on us is a 51% majority in Congress cramming a health system down our throats that we will be stuck with forever - wake up, quit trying to scare us all, and solve the problem. It's time for both sides to get together to solve the problem, and quit telling us we are going to be killing grandma. Otherwise, you won't like the solution.