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Higher bills, less coverage
Health care: Denied

May 3, 2002 | Page 1

LIZ CARVIN thought she had affordable health care. The wages at her janitor's job were low, but the health plan made up for it.

Or so Liz thought. Last month, CalPERS--the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which administers her health plan--announced that premiums were going up by 25 percent.

"I was shocked," said Liz, who has worked for the General Services Department in Sacramento for almost two decades. "You might not make that much, but the benefits--that's why we got in it."

Now Liz, who takes home about $1,600 a month, has seen the cost of her asthma and diabetes medicines triple over the last year--with more increases to come. She and 1.2 million other CalPERS members could see out-of-pocket premium hikes of as much as 66 percent.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, wrote Washington Post columnist David Broder last month. "[T]ime has run out for this dysfunctional, disjointed thing we call health care," he wrote. "Premium increases of this scale will force employers to cut back or eliminate health insurance benefits and drive more and more families into the ranks of the uninsured."

Broder is right. With drug costs expected to jump by 20 percent this year, companies everywhere are passing the misery on to workers in the form of higher co-pays for drugs and doctor's visits. That's when they aren't cutting health coverage altogether.

But life is anything but miserable for the health care bosses. Howard Phanstiel, president and chief executive officer of PacifiCare, took home more than $1.4 million last year--more money in one year than Liz Carvin could make in a lifetime of work at her job.

With his income, Phanstiel has access to the best health care in the country. And the best is available.

Take the newest thing in luxury health care--"boutique" or "concierge" medicine. For a mere $4,000 or so on top of regular insurance payments, the rich can ensure that they get the star treatment--including cell phone access to their doctors day or night; appointments on the same day that they call; annual nutrition and physical fitness assessments in their homes or health clubs; and home visits. Kick in $20,000, and your family members will get personally monogrammed robes at each visit.

And this is in a country where millions of people skip doctors' visits or refilling needed prescriptions because they can't afford to pay. Then there are the more than 40 million Americans who have no health insurance at all.

This is more than a health care crisis. It's a catastrophe.

For four years, Democrats and Republicans alike have promised a Patients' Bill of Rights. But in the end, no reform plan met the approval of their pals who run the health care and drug industries.

We can't wait for Washington to wheel and deal a solution to the health care crisis. We deserve quality health care now.

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