OP-ED private health insurance benefits insurance stockholders, not patients

December 6, 2010

Penticton Herald

By Dr. Khati Hendry

I was disappointed to read the guest column from Nadeem Esamil of the Fraser Institute regarding “the true cost of ‘free’ Medicare”.  It would be surprising if anyone were under the impression that Medicare is “free”, as we are all aware of the taxes and premiums we pay—although in return we do get first dollar coverage for many services when we are in need, which is how insurance is supposed to work.  But asking whether we get good value from our public health care insurance in the current political environment inevitably carries the subtext of whether we should change to a non-public and multi-tier solution instead of improving what we have.  I would strongly caution readers against leaping to that conclusion.

I have worked as a physician in both the supremely dysfunctional US health system as well as in Canada, and know well the administrative obstacles in getting reimbursed by private insurers wherever they may be, as their purpose is a return on investment, not health care.  They make money by NOT providing services--think of having to argue with the equivalent of your travel insurance for every medical service!  If people are tempted to believe that the private insurance option is less expensive, fairer, or results in better health status of the population, there is a rich body of health policy research showing this is not true.  The only ones to get better value for their dollar in that scheme are the insurance stockholders.

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