Lawmakers Need to Choose “People Over Profits” – Op-Ed

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Kelly Cummings, a member of the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Health Care is a Human Right Campaign. She lives in Fletcher.

A few weeks ago the Senate Health Committee held what they termed, “business owner” testimony. On March 31, they heard “consumer” testimony. So that’s where I’ll start, with the word “consumer.”

Interesting word choice “consumer.” According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of “consumer” is a person who uses a “commodity” or service. The definition of “commodity” is, an article of trade or commerce. The Senate Health Committee didn’t label the March 31 testimony insured or uninsured or underinsured or even patient testimony. They called it “consumer” testimony.

So you see the problem.

Let’s just face it and call it what it is. Health care is an “industry.” And industry does not survive without consumers. The definition of an “industry” is, any general “business” activity. The definition of “business” is a profit-seeking enterprise. The definition of “profit” is the monetary surplus left after all expenses of a business have been met.

So here we are. The people of Vermont are “consumers” of health care who, if they can afford it, have the privilege to purchase medical care from the health care industry. And if they can’t afford it, they don’t get it.

So back to that word “consumer”, which led us to the word “commodity”, which led us to the word “industry” which led us to the word “business,” which finally led us to the word “profit”.

This is what it all comes down to: profit. It’s about the money.

Insurance companies make lots of profit. And yes, even those “non-profit” insurance companies make lots of profit. How else do you think they pay those outrageous salaries and bonuses? How else do you think they can afford to pay their public relations people who work so diligently to convince us that we need to keep giving them our money for their profit? Nonprofit sounds so “non profitty” doesn’t it? So non-threatening. But it isn’t. It’s about the money, too.

What it’s not about is care. Insurance companies don’t make money when they pay for us to get well. They make money when they don’t. And those high-deductible plans? They love those most of all because we never get to use them. They rarely have to pay out on those. All PROFIT.

Make no mistake about it. The health care industry is a business. And businesses like profit.

Health care industry officials like profits so much they are willing to manipulate with fear, distortions, name calling and any other tactic their well-paid public relations firms can come up with when there is any threat to their profits. And their targets are us!

Divide and conquer. This strategy is almost as old as time itself. The insurance companies don’t even have to be very creative, they just do the same thing over and over again. They pit employee against employee, politician against politician, neighbor against neighbor, doctor against doctor, the healers against the sick and business against the state, which by the way makes you wonder, has Big Business become Too Big to Fail in the state of Vermont? Maybe. The health care industry knows all too well, if we are distracted it is to their benefit. They only get away with this, with our permission. So what if this time, we said no – to divide and conquer? What if this time, Vermonters decided to unite instead? We find our own solution.

The question then is this, why do we continue to give our money to the very people who are keeping us sick, killing some of us and bankrupting our state? It just makes no sense.We can do this on our own and get a better outcome for everyone. We don’t need the insurance companies. But they do need us, because without us their profit goes away. If we cut the middlemen out of the picture and that’s all they are their profit, our money, becomes our gain and the people of Vermont get the healthcare they need. Some are concerned that if we do this it may hurt business. Shouldn’t our concern be that if we don’t do this, it will hurt Vermonters? It can’t always be “all about the money.”

It is time for Big Business in the state of Vermont to start asking, “what can I do for my state for a change?” Rather than,”what can my state do for me?” Vermont has a health care crisis. We simply cannot continue to do business as usual when it comes to the health care industry. So please stop your threats of leaving Vermont. Stop trying to take our health hostage. Instead, become a good corporate citizen and be part of the solution. We are all being asked to sacrifice. It’s time for you to give back as well.

We know this, as long as insurance companies are in charge of our health we are not going to be healthy. And next year there will be another 60 Vermonters who die. There will be thousands of people, who because they didn’t have the privilege to purchase medical care, will go without proper care and continue to get sicker. Perhaps even eventually joining the ranks of the next year’s 60 who will die. And Vermonters will continue to die…because that’s what happens when you can’t afford to be a “consumer” in today’s health care industry. Eventually, time runs out. This is fact.

So I say to our legislators, the people of Vermont have tried to help you see the reality and the truth of the health care crisis in our state. You’ve heard their stories. They are raw, compelling and honest. You can help change this if you want and become part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. You know the people of Vermont are in desperate need of quality healthcare. And you know if the status quo remains, it will bankrupt our state. So you are going to have to choose. It just comes down to that. And with this particular industry, “the health care industry,” the moral thing to do is to choose people over profit.

It can’t always be all about the money. This time, don’t let it be.