Understatement of the year: With an initial cost projection to the state of $50 million to adequately fund the public employees’ health plan through the Public Employees Insurance Agency, a subcommittee of the governor’s task force assigned to find a solution to this big ol’ bag of problems is facing a heavy lift.
What no one in the corridors of political power is talking about is this: Providing reasonable health care to state employees who serve their state’s citizens is an issue that exceeds our state’s ability to rein in the ever rising cost of health care — and therein resides the underlying issue.
Yes, $50 million the first year — and more to come each and every year because our elected representatives in Congress have failed miserably in addressing our nation’s health care, specifically its costs, beginning with a wrong-headed attempt to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act.
So, here we are with the Revenue and Cost Subcommittee meeting for the first time Tuesday, its members scratching noggins and reviewing options with the goal of cutting costs but not benefits. Tricky if not impossible.
During their remarkable and impressive rallies at the Capitol this past spring, teachers made it clear they want a reliable and consistent funding source for PEIA. Politicians would be well advised to listen to teachers as they showed some muscle in the state’s recent primary elections. Just ask Sen. Robert Karnes of the 11th District. A longtime political critic of unions, he said teachers were holding the state’s school children “hostage” during their strike. A Republican, he doubted the teachers’ influence on his side of the primary ballot. Well, he got stomped, 5,787 votes to 3,749.
So maybe, just maybe, legislators ought to listen to those teachers’ concerns.
But we’re not sure what the teachers regard as a reliable funding source. We have heard talk of boosting the severance tax on gas being pumped through and out of the state. We like that idea — for other initiatives. Last time we looked, gas and oil and coal were commodities — susceptible to the vagaries of markets in addition to supply and demand. There have always been dramatic ups and downs in the energy sector. And with renewable resources eating a bigger share of our nation’s energy supply pie, there will be additional pressures on energy prices.
Yes, such a tax could be a short-term solution, a bridge. But we do not see that as a long-term strategy. How much longer would the state be able to milk that golden calf? Ten years? Twenty? And then what other “reliable” funding source would it turn to?
The answer, we believe, has to come from the federal government to put a permanent fix on the escalating cost of health care.
And here is what we know about that: Americans pay more — way more — for health care than (citizens in) any other developed country. Health care spending in the U.S. accounts for 16 percent of the nation’s economy, while countries in the rest of the developed world spend on average about 8.9 percent.
Why is that? American health care is more expensive because prices in the U.S. are higher. Americans pay more for everything — from angioplasties to cancer treatment, from C-sections to knee and hip replacements, from Band-Aids to stitches, from Tylenol in the hospital to opioids from the corner pharmacy.
That’s because private insurance companies (via your premiums) pay for most of those costs and they are not as big and powerful as the U.S. government. In other countries, the government is the one doing the negotiating on drug pricing, and because it carries a big stick, it gets lower prices.
It’s just that simple.
And, of course, politicians want nothing to do with a single-payer health care system because, well, pick a rationalization. Our favorite scare tactic is the threat of socialism, i.e. socialized medicine. Remember, Congress just authorized $700 billion for the military which operates from a pooling of our tax dollars to address a common concern — the very definition of socialism.
Regardless of what politicians tell you on the campaign trail, here is the truth: They like the massive campaign contributions from drug companies. Unfortunately, our Congress is the best that money can buy.
Well, there’s another election coming this fall and we think health care will play well on the campaign trail.
And since Sen. Karnes will have plenty of time on his hands between now and then, maybe he can share his experience of running headlong into the winds of change.