Can the NAS affect your health care? Of course!

Thomas Secrest's picture
Obedience: Image by Thomas Secrest
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Let me state up-front that this is an opinion piece. However, healthcare is no doubt an important issue to you, just as it is for most Americans, and anything that affects your healthcare or that of your family is worth thinking about.

What are the numbers?

The last year for which we have good statistics is 2010. In that year, there were just a smidgen under 50 million Americans without health insurance. At the time, the U.S. population was right at 310 million people. Therefore, the media would routinely report that about 16% (1 out of 6) of the American population was without medical insurance. If you start taking sub-populations of America you start getting numbers like these: 18.4% of those under 65 were without insurance, 28.4% of those between 25 and 34 were without insurance and 26.9% of those living on less than $25,000 a year were without insurance.

Since I tend to worry excessively about the fate of children, here are some numbers that are not reported so often, perhaps because it would upset people and make the government look bad. In 2010, 15% of the Americans lived in poverty. As I recall, that’s about the same number of people without health insurance. There were also 16 million children (22% of all children) living in poverty and 7.3 million living without health insurance.

Obama-care

Now that we have the basic numbers, it is pretty clear that healthcare in an unemployed and underemployed America is an extremely important issue. In response, our altruistic government rushed in to help and gave us Obama-care (right?); actually, no. First and foremost, there has never been an altruistic government anywhere, anytime. By definition, government is about competing interests and with regards to healthcare in America, you are not a competitor, you are, at best, a consumer and a powerless one at that. Healthcare in America is a ‘for profit’ business and the corporations who profit have more power in congress than you will ever have. The lobbies for those who benefit from your illnesses would never let a piece of legislation through that would, in any way, threaten their profits.

So, you fairly ask, what is Obama-care? Obama-care is a piece of legislation that the healthcare industry let pass, so that Obama and the Democratic Party could fulfill at least one campaign promise. What does it mean “they let it pass?” It means it was either cost positive or cost neutral for them, that is they either made money from it or it did their profits no harm. Was it good for America? As it turns out, that’s the wrong question. Was it bad for the healthcare industry, which is the right question, and the answer is ‘No’ it wasn't bad at all. For those who like information, it was great. You may have forgotten the ‘information’ part. However, one of the ways the government was going to save a ton of money was to computerize all health care records. We would have a huge country-wide medical database. Don’t forget this point; we’ll come back to it later in the article.

Health insurance

Everybody wants and needs health insurance because we would go into debt we could never repay if we were to get seriously ill or badly injured without health insurance. You would, no doubt, receive treatment, but what happens after you’re discharged from acute care and still need chronic care? That’s when your life is put at risk. America is not a hospitable place for those without financial resources and without medical insurance. In these kinds of cases, either you family helps you or ….. Unfortunately there is no ‘or.’

Information IS the new power

Now we come to the NSA and your phone calls, emails and SMSs. I don’t know who said it, but it was catchy; they said “if you are doing something you don’t want everyone to know about, then don’t do it.” Like I said, it’s catchy; although, it is either incredibly naive or incredibly malevolent.

Why do companies like Google or Facebook want your everyday information? They want it because they know that information is power and power is money. With nothing more than mathematical algorithms they can mine your seemingly meaningless personal data and generate profits in dollar amounts that we can’t really fathom. Take a close look at your next Google search. They think they know you. Each of those little ads along the right side of the screen were put there just for you based on what Google thinks you like, which is based on where you go on the internet. They really do know every single web site you browse. You leave a BIG digital fingerprint wherever you go.

Does Google really know you?

How do insurance companies make money?

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There is just one last piece of the puzzle that needs to be added and that is how do insurance companies make a profit? Well it’s all about those algorithms. The trick is to charge high premiums to insure things that are likely to happen, not-as-high premiums for things that are not likely to happen and to refuse to insure things guaranteed to happen. Then those premiums are invested in complex financial instruments that return much, much more than they would ever have to pay out for your health care.

You might ask (in light of the recent global recession created by the collapse of complex financial instruments), what happens if a companies high risk investments fail? That’s easy: (1) like AIG, they are bailed out by the government and it is mainly the consumer that takes the hit or (2) the company goes bankrupt and it is mainly the consumer that takes the hit. Did you notice the one thing both the above scenarios had in common?

The NSA and healthcare

First off, recall that we are only able to have this conversation because someone (Edward Snowden) risked his life and liberty to tell us. The U.S. government would much prefer that we didn't know about this, which makes me wonder, what else they would much prefer we didn't know?

This is what we do know, Google, Facebook, maybe Twitter and a dozen other social media networks were either extorted or volunteered to provide ALL your data to the government. All these organizations have pages and pages and pages of documents that explain, in great detail, your rights to privacy and what ‘they’ can and cannot do with your user information. Somehow, it seems they forgot to include the paragraph in which they state that ‘they’ will turn over to the government, without any consideration of the 4th amendment, anything the government ask for, up to and including EVERYTHING! We also know that the government has similar deals with Verizon. Either Verizon is the service provider of choice for terrorists or the complete list of service providers giving your information to the government has yet to be made public. I suspect it is the latter.

I agree that those reading this article are probably not terrorists and that my concerned readers do not have, nor have they ever had, evil intentions of hurting innocent Americans. Because you agree in my faith in you, you therefore feel that you have nothing to hide from the NSA or the U.S. government.

Not so fast. Remember that point way back at the beginning of this article, the one I said don’t forget; well it is time to pay it another visit. Who pays insurance company premiums? In general, there are 3 groups: (1) companies (Although, in reality your health benefits are just hidden deductions from your salary. Businesses, like governments, are not inherently altruistic.), (2) individuals and (3) the government (Medicare, Medicaid) (although, they pay for it with your shared tax dollars).

Next we need to ask, who would benefit from knowing your health information, that is, the information that determines how much you will cost health insurance companies over your life time. There are at least two groups. The first is the employers, especially the big, big employers and second, the insurance companies. Employers don’t want to hire you if you are going to cost them money and insurance companies don’t want to insure you if you are going to cost them money.

Buried in your mundane personal data, personal communications and health records is all the information companies need to determine if you are employable and for how long, and if you are insurable and for how long, relative to their cost-benefit analyses.

Is this possible?

You have been a loyal worker for 10 years. You haven’t cost your employer or insurance company a dime. You show up on-time and you don’t steal post-it notes.

You notice a little freckle on your arm that has turned into a little open sore. You go to the dermatologists and they diagnose you with skin cancer. The doctor innocently types your diagnosis and prognosis into your medical records. You phone your spouse or email or text a close friend to tell them what the doctor said. Somewhere, a computer algorithm is checking for the word cancer and flags your name. The next day, the boss tells you how great an employee you are, but these are austere times and the company has to make some cuts and it nothing personal, but here’s your pink slip.

You’re outraged; you know deep inside it’s about the diagnosis. You’ll sue, right? No, you won’t, because the program that flagged your name doesn't exist and there is nothing you can do to prove that it does.

Something I forgot to mention -- what is an example of something 'sure to happen' that an insurance company might not want to insure. One thing that comes to mind are kids and ear infections. Oh, and one more thing, I may have forgotten to mention that the biggest employer, the biggest consumer of medical insurance and the biggest medical insurer in the known universe is the government of the United States of America.

References

U.S. population
National Poverty Center
Largest employers

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