Single-payer coverage offers us the best chance of providing the best health care to the most people at the least expense.
No. The last thing we need is government mucking up the best health-care system in the world. All we really need to do is put a cap on court awards for medical malpractice.
Absurd. That'll address only part of the problem. What about the high "overhead" costs of the private health insurers?
Don't be a twit. Those health insurers and their high premiums are the only thing keeping Medicare affordable. Private payers are subsidizing the below-market rates that Medicare pays for everybody else!
Well, maybe. But come that's only because the private insurers pick and choose which clients they take on. Medicare gets stuck with all the high-cost old folk, and their pricey end-of-life expenses.
Aha! Death panels ... !
Settle down, folks. You're both right.
Each side (every side?) of the health-care debate contains its own kernel of truth. Everyone's "right" to a degree. But here's the dirty little secret behind the health-care debate: It doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong. "Obamacare" is not going to happen.
Or, at least, not in the form that anyone hopes it will. Universal health coverage for everybody, with the government picking up the tab in its role as "single payer?" D.O.A. Congress nixed this idea from the get-go. The closest we're going to get to that is some sort of "public option," and you can see the president backpedaling furiously away from even that half-measure as we speak.
Why kill a good idea?
Ask 'most any of your Canadian and British friends what they think of single-payer, and chances are good they'll tell you it's a decent system. Not perfect. There are waiting lines involved, and "rationing." But you get your basic medical needs covered, and you never have to worry about the bill. Just like democracy, single-payer coverage is probably the worst way to run a health-care system ... except for all the others.
So why won't it happen? President Obama sums it up best:
For us to completely change [the current health-care system] would be too disruptive. That's where suddenly people would lose what they have and they'd have to adjust to an entirely new system.
The big "lie"
Ostensibly, the president was arguing against taking away employer-provided health care and shifting the responsibility of bill payment to the government. But let's be honest, folks: When you get down to the nitty-gritty of doctor-patient interaction, it makes no difference who signs the check and mails it to the doc ... so long as it ain't us.
So where's the "disruption?"
You're soaking in it. The real disruption would happen to the system of private health insurance, and in particular, to the insurance companies that provide it. Switch to single-payer, and presto-changeo, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) , Aetna (NYSE: AET ) , and WellPoint (NYSE: WLP ) lose their raison d' etre.
Now, single-payer proponents will argue that these companies aren't adding value to the health-care system anyway. They're toll collectors, paying the bills and taking their cut anytime a sick person visits a doc. Allow someone else (Obamacare) to pay the bills, and there's no reason for the insurers to exist. So what's wrong with letting them follow the horse-whip tanners and buggy manufacturers into the dustbin of history?
Simply this: Love 'em or hate 'em, the insurers are just doing what we told 'em to do. They're collecting premiums, paying bills, and earning profits for their shareholders under the agreed "rules of the game." They didn't spend decades building lousy products, and drive themselves out of business like GM did and Ford (NYSE: F ) nearly did. They didn't voluntarily hand out loans to acknowledged liars, racking up tens of billions in losses like Citigroup (NYSE: C ) or Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) . In short, they didn't do anything to deserve a date with a death panel.
Nor do you
Plus, there's the pocketbook issue. UnitedHealth, Aetna, and WellPoint currently carry $70 billion in combined market capitalization. Extrapolate to the rest of the industry, and we're probably talking well over $100 billion in investments that will be vaporized if we wipe out this industry.
It's not fair to them. It's not fair to us. Companies won't stand for it. Investors won't stand for it. We won't stand for it.
Who you callin' "we," buster?
I'm calling you "we." And before you disagree, pull that mutual find statement out of the trash, shake off the coffee grounds, and give it a good read-through. You may be surprised to learn just how big a stake you already have in the health-care insurance industry. Same deal with your 401(k). Same thing for your pension plan. Simply put, we all have a lot to lose if the government nationalizes health care.
Now for the good news:
And that's why it won't happen. But the best news here for investors is: No one seems to realize this yet.
Oh, Congress may nibble around the edges of the problem, limiting policy exclusions here (and letting insurers charge rates to accommodate), or expanding coverage there (more customers for the insurers -- boo hoo). But they know darn well that this isn't the kind of wholesale "change" voters were believing in last November. Yet investors are still sitting on their hands, and the P/E ratios on primo health-care stocks like Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) are sitting near multi-year lows.
But not us. Here at Motley Fool Hidden Gems, we know an opportunity when we see one. We're watching the health-care sector like a hawk and pointing out the best bets to our members. As a matter of fact, we just discovered a real treasure this week. Claim your free, 30-day trial of the service right now, and read all about it before Congress wakes up.
At The Motley Fool, we put real money where our virtual mouths are. Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of UnitedHealth Group, as does The Motley Fool itself, and the stock is also an official recommendation of Motley Fool Stock Advisor and Motley Fool Inside Value. Other Inside Value picks mentioned above include Pfizer and WellPoint.
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