Americans deserve better than choosing among crummy insurance plans

By Ed Weisbart, M.D.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Letters, Aug. 26, 2016

When I read that Aetna was pulling out of the Missouri health insurance marketplace, I immediately reached for my wallet ("Aetna is pulling back," Aug. 17) to see which insurance company I have this year.

The past four years, I’ve been purchasing my insurance through the online marketplaces that were established by the Affordable Care Act. Prior to the ACA, I received letters from two health insurance companies denying me the ability to purchase insurance because my hypertension rendered me “uninsurable.” The ACA made such profit-driven barriers illegal.

Every one of the past four years I’ve made a different choice: first Anthem, then UnitedHealth, Coventry and now Cigna. Or was it Aetna? That’s why I had to reach for my wallet — I frankly could not remember which one I chose this year. I appreciate having these choices because each of the choices is crummy, so I’m glad I can select the least-crummy version.

But I can imagine a world where I would no longer have to make those kinds of choices. I can imagine a world more like traditional Medicare, where I and all my fellow Americans will have the freedom to get care from virtually any physician or hospital.

I can imagine this because I could get this today were I living in any other modern nation. Ours is the only country that allows these freedoms to be stolen from us by for-profit, publicly traded commercial conglomerates.

The ACA is a hard-fought dramatic step forward that is helping tens of millions of Americans get insurance. But much work remains: tens of millions more remain uncovered, and a great many of us have to settle for inadequate insurance.

Aetna’s decision reveals the fundamental foolishness of abdicating to profit-driven conglomerates our constitutional responsibility to “promote the general welfare,” especially when those conglomerates repeatedly demonstrate they will never favor the public’s access to health care over any opportunity to make another buck off us.

Dr. Ed Weisbart is chair of the Missouri chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. He resides in Olivette.