What do a flu shot and a nest of honey bees have in common? This is not a pun. This is not one of those “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar” moments. The nasty needles and Winnie the Pooh’s arch rivals actually do have some common ground, aside from the fact that they can give you a pretty nasty pinch. Flu shots are unpleasant and may cause you to get mildly ill. However, doctors choose to produce the shots, and you choose to inoculate yourself anyway because the alternative option of catching a full blown bout of the flu in the bleak midwinter is much worse. By the same (or perhaps a distantly related) token, honey bees cause a good deal of anxiety to anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being stung. With today’s chemicals and bug zappers, they would be easy enough to annihilate. However, we are encouraged to let our winged friends live to buzz another day. We choose not to kill bumble bees because they are essential to the ecosystem- in fact, one study found that if honey bees became extinct, human beings would soon follow. What do flu shots have in common with bees? They are both what you might call necessary evils.
When you look at your life, you find many other instances of “necessary evils”. Perhaps one of the best examples is your private insurance company. With the current health care reform debate raging in Washington and beyond, insurance companies find themselves in the limelight, and many people are asking, have insurance companies grown too powerful? If you invest in private health insurance, there are several things you need to know.
First, insurance companies are businesses. You may hear that you’re in the “good hands” of a “good neighbor”, but at heart, the companies must be primarily concerned with turning a profit. Since insurance is of great need to most Americans who would not be able to pay unexpected medical bills out of pocket, these businesses are in no danger of failing due to a lack of customers. In this situation, the businesses in charge of doling out insurance plans seem to hold all the cards. How can a consumer get away without paying disastrously high rates? One idea behind insurance companies that ought to protect consumers from being overcharged is the basic capitalistic principle of competition. With many competing companies, consumers ought to enjoy the luxury of shopping around for the best rates. However, the industry tends to hang together. Even though no single company can technically gain a monopoly, companies know that if they all charge around the same amount for a coverage plan, there is very little consumers can do. You’re hard pressed to find decent coverage that truly undercuts the competition for precisely this reason.
Second, your insurance company can both discriminate against you based on your medical history and can choose to discontinue your plan at any point. If you have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, and smoke, good luck finding coverage any middle-income family could reasonably afford. By the same token, if you develop a condition an insurance provider reserves the right to end your contract and your coverage. This is sonetimes called “nonrenewal”. This is all done in the name of business, and it can be done because insurers share a rulebook that allows everyone to stay in business while turning a comfortable profit.
Why, with this kind of apparent corruption, have insurance companies stayed around? The answer rests on the basic economic principle of supply and demand. The insurers provide what the people demand, and the people must seek coverage for their own welfare or, in the case of auto insurance in many states, because they are legally obliged to do so.
The ugly reputation of the faceless insurance market (though Allstate‘s Dennis Haysbert certainly gives it a nice try in the name of car insurers) has many Americans rallying in support of health care reform that would put coverage in the hands of the government. While it is true that reform is needed so that the insurance companies face some kind of competition that will hopefully drive down their rates and eliminate coverage discrimination, you may want to think twice before supporting a plan that would jeopardize their very existence and eliminate them. The argument made by many Republicans and Libertarians is that even though the proposed “public option" does not expressly eliminate insurance companies, there is no way businesses can compete over time. If this is the case, insurance would fall into a different kind of monopoly, this time headed by the government.
Recall the bumble bee and the flu shot. The bee stings, but you let him live. The shot gives you a mild case of the chills, but you choose to get it anyway. Insurance companies have perhaps grown too corrupt in the past decade, but if they are eliminated, what we have is not a solution, but rather a new, much more general, letterhead over your insurance policy. Some of the advantages to individual health care include choosing your benefits, deciding the extent of coverage you require, and deciding where to be treated.
Some warnings about universal health care and the public option may be worth considering. Aside from the reliance on taxpayers, those who choose government sponsored health care must understand that no government agency runs with true efficiency. Because of the nature and size of government run programs, patients would likely be subjected to much longer waits for medical treatment. Treatment may also be less effective. Why? As the public option grows, it may become powerful enough to not only affect insurers, but also drive down reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, putting higher financial pressure on the private sector. The use of universal health care may also spur the government to implement more “sin taxes” or heavy restrictions on items that are considered bad for one’s health, like fast food items and cigarettes.
Lawsuit Financial advises consumers to shop around for the best possible insurance coverage for the lowest price. No matter what kind of insurance you have, our firm is primarily concerned with getting you the settlement and the coverage you need if you are injured. If you are involved in an accident or find that you are a victim of malpractice, consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable about injury litigation and can advise you of your rights and the best course of action. As the health care debate reveals with increasing clarity, insurance is a tricky business, and plans can be difficult to navigate. Often, insurers do not pay the amount you expect after an accident. In these cases, it can be difficult to cover your expenses. That is why it is wise to seek a firm that can assist you, legally. It may also be necessary to seek financial assistance; if so, Lawsuit Financial and companies like it seek to cover your post-accident bills and expenses; we try to take care of you and your family.
If you prefer the public option, it is crucial that it remains exactly that- an option, not the only available path. Pleasant as a bee sting though they may be, if we eliminate ousts insurance companies altogether, we run the risk of simply eliminating all options in favor of an untested path of universal coverage. Whether you support or oppose national health care, it is important to consider not just the role insurance companies play in society, but moreover the significance of that role. Challenging these businesses to lower their rates and deal even-handedly with consumers is fair game in a capitalist society, but don’t be too quick to crush all the bumble bees just because they can sting you. Other, bigger insects sting too.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.