Wednesday, June 24, 2009
YONKERS, N.Y. — Consumers Union (CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is laying out a prescription for the nation’s ailing healthcare system in the magazine’s August 2009 issue.
In a rare editorial move, Consumer Reports devotes seven full pages to the personal stories of American consumers and doctors who are struggling with the healthcare system, and after each story, CU recommends specific reforms to attack the problems. Plus, the magazine offers up the facts behind some of the fears about reform, such as the potential for a government “takeover” of healthcare.
“Our healthcare system is terminally ill,” said Jim Guest, President and CEO of Consumers Union. “When you look at the crushing burden that healthcare has put on our pocketbooks and our quality of life, we believe this is the most important issue facing consumers today. That’s why we decided to devote this much space to spelling out what’s wrong with healthcare and recommending how it can be fixed.”
The Consumer Reports editorial notes that medical costs are soaring at about twice the rate of inflation and asks, “[W]hat are you getting for your money? A system that often limits your choices of doctors and hospitals, forces you to satisfy a complex web of rules to get reimbursed, locks you into a job for fear of losing coverage, and strands you without affordable protection if you lose insurance while suffering a chronic condition.”
Consumer Reports offers seven real-world examples of the problems people face with healthcare, followed by CU’s recommendations for each problem.
One story focuses on a young doctor in Chicago who developed type 2 diabetes. When he changed practices a year later, no private insurer would cover him because he had a “pre-existing” condition. One of the sad ironies of healthcare is that the people who are sick have the hardest time getting and keeping insurance. Another story describes the Catch-22 facing an Idaho schoolteacher and his wife. The only way the couple could afford to insure their two young children was for the wife to drop her own coverage.
In light of these problems, Consumers Union favors the creation of a health insurance exchange, which would function something like an insurance store. People who can’t get or afford insurance from their employers could buy it directly from an insurer through the exchange, with sliding scale subsidies based on their income to help make it affordable. The exchange would offer private plans as well as a public insurance option offered by the government. The public plan would get no special favors or funding. But its administrative costs would presumably be lower because it would operate on a nonprofit basis, and its presence in the market would help keep premiums down.
Consumers Union believes the availability of a public insurance option alongside private plans is critical to keeping costs down. While some opponents of reform paint a public plan as a government “takeover” of healthcare, Consumers Union disagrees. It would be another insurer that uses the same providers as private insurance plans to deliver care. People would still have the option to keep their private insurer, but there would be more choices. Increased competition would improve quality and cost, and bring real choices to the many markets now dominated by just one or two private carriers.
David Butler, Consumers Union, 202-462-6262
Kristina Edmunson, Consumers Union, 202-462-6262
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.