The other day I felt sympathy for health insurers.
This almost never happens. Far more often, I fall into the trap of blaming them for all the brokenness in the U.S. healthcare system. Insurers and I have a history, and it isnâ€™t pretty.
Then I started helping a loved one select a health plan. This person has pre-existing conditions, requiring treatment options thatâ€”even though well established in the medical communityâ€”some insurers have apparently never heard of, let alone cover.
At one point in the process, the old rage began to boil up in me. Suddenly, who knows why, my mind flashed on all the challenges the insurers face: paying for millions of expensive tests and procedures for millions of people with a pot of money that, however large, is also finite. Perhaps this was more about a broken system than about one corrupt player, or set of players, in that system.
To be sure, health insurers must bear some responsibility for the systemâ€™s vicious cycle. But many others contribute as well: doctors who order tests to avoid malpractice suits, lawyers who push for extravagant awards, pharmaceutical companies whose necessarily high-risk research pushes drug prices higher, all of us just for living longer and needing more of these tests and procedures. None of these parties is necessarily evil, or maybe even blameworthy. More to the point, weâ€™re all caught in this system that no longer works on a grand scale. We all do what we can to make our corner of it work. Sometimes we do this for noble purposesâ€”for the benefit of others.
Why do I bring this up now? As a cautionary tale.
We can commit our whole lives to dialogue. We can prepare our souls to be people of reconciliation, of peace, of reaching across divides. But the slings and arrows of lifeâ€™s outrageous fortune keep on coming. We get wounded along the way. It is so easy, no matter who we are, to react with anger and bitterness and recrimination.
That can be a good thing. Some systems, organizations, and people are thoroughly corrupt, and justice demands that we stand up to them in anger. But I think itâ€™s important that we pay close attention to the slings and arrows and take away all the lessons they hold. In my case, this meant pushing through â€œthe evil insurance companies denied me coverageâ€ to the reasons behind denials like this, and the ways we can reform the system so people have access to the coverage they truly need. Often, when we go through this process, the reality of these lessons gives us a larger perspectiveâ€”one that avoids the simplistic trap of blaming a single scapegoat.
What do you think? Am I being too soft on health insurers? Have you ever scapegoated someone or something when the issue turned out to be much deeper than that? How did you find your way through it?
John–Surely your suggested caution is warranted. The blame game is more popular than the NBA, NFL and MLB combined. (And I could get into a blame game rant about what’s wrong with all of these “games”– but I won’t) Yet, I maintain that the medical-insurance-pharmaceutical complex suffers from the same deadly sin: greed. When one “follows the money” one finds in each segment of this complex individuals and collections of individuals whose “compensation” for their labors are obscenely large. This particular industrial complex is not unique in this regard. But health care concerns are felt very personally. Perhaps what’s needed is not so much blaming but shaming!
That’s an important point, Walt, and I appreciate your making it. I think we can find this same dynamic in many of the parties to the healthcare mess. Tort lawyers want to help their clients secure a better future, yes, but some surely push for exorbitant jury awards to earn fatter fees. As consumers, we all yearn for good health–and rightly so–but many people demand pharmaceutical solutions from our doctors when such solutions are counterproductive, thus driving up the cost of drugs further. Not that taking antibiotics for a viral infection equates morally with obscene CEO compensation: far from it. I’m just saying that the cause-effect chain in healthcare is insanely intricate, and resolving the issue will require careful untangling of it.