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Behind the Curtains of the Healthcare Debate

Opinion | April 7, 2010

As students, we should be disappointed with the way Obama’s healthcare legislation has been reported to the millions of anxious Americans watching intently. For a bill so relevant to each and every one of us living in America, whether in school or in the working world, the press has covered the hotheaded arguing and name-calling without contributing to a factual understanding of the core issues. Beyond the immediate politics, most Americans who go back and forth on this issue cannot get past the verbose, politicized arguments on television.

The real question that we as students must ask is: What are the basic elements upon which our lawmakers have crafted this new legislation? In response to the press coverage we have seen, what is fueling the points of contention between Democrats and Republicans?

In many ways, we can understand reform in the healthcare industry with one word: cost. Health Maintenance Organizations are firms trying to make a profit by minimizing costs in any way available. This is where many of the misconceptions arise. Increasing costs are not attempts by insurance companies to filch another one out of the pockets of lower-income America. Firms that raised premiums did so because their bottom line, the costs associated with making payouts, was growing.

How to lower costs is the central question that both parties in Congress ask.  Republicans believe in the free market and making people pay for insurance. Those required to pay premiums will not abuse the system by going to the doctor for unnecessary tests and procedures, and insurers will not have to pay for these extravagancies at the expense of everyone else. People need an incentive to engage in avoidant behavior that will minimize medical expenses, and this is not provided under a single payer or a system that guarantees insurance with low premiums. Republicans foresee that any plan that grants these conditions will lead to massive increases in healthcare spending, which the government would be called upon to cover, and disagree with any projection that shows this bill lowering costs.

The other element of cost is the difference between healthy and unhealthy people. Some of us will need more treatment throughout our lives than others and will thus incur more payouts from medical insurance. To balance out these individuals, insurance companies need healthy people who will never need a high degree of treatment. This is where Democrats come in. By requiring almost everyone to have health insurance, both healthy and unhealthy people must remain in the insurance pool and balance each other out. Healthy people leaving insurance plans decreases income from premiums without reducing an equal proportion of payouts. The Democrats argue that with this cost-cutting measure, subsidies to the poor to help pay premiums, and the banning of discrimination based on medical history, we can keep costs under control while also expanding coverage.

As students we should analyze the facts, rather than the fluff, and boil down complex arguments into comprehensible outlines. As we pass and enact this historic bill, we each need to understand how our lives as students, working adults, and Americans will be affected by new regulations and reforms.