Health Care Hypocrisy: A Wake Up Call

Recent polling fails to suggest the reasons for public cynicism and disappointment with the health care reform bill passed in the Senate. The polls do reveal however, important questions that the public is not being asked and what the press has chosen to ignore, or refuse to cover.

On the left, the demise of a public option and the perceived assault on women's reproductive health, have led many to draw stark comparisons between then candidate Obama's campaign rhetoric and President Obama's governance. On the right, the disillusion of government intrusion into a realm they consider to be "off-limits" has ignited an inferno of dissent.

Despite the clamor pervading across the political spectrum, health insurance stock prices are soaring.

The difficult choices and complexities of health care reform cannot be overstated. But in light of disillusionment and criticism, many of us need to take a hard look in the mirror. We nod in agreement with news commentators skewering the system, but mute and ignore the commercials and programs that oppose reform. We seem to accept that ratings and ad revenues are sacred cows and this "acceptance" goes to the heart of the problem, but also points to a solution.

Talk of the Senate bill "laying the foundation for a house of future health care reforms" is no more than a tease. It suggests Congress can accomplish tomorrow what cannot be accomplished today, belying the limited capacity and ephemerality of congressional majorities not likely to be seen for some time - if ever again in our lifetimes. With the House and Senate's respective legislations now heading into conference committee negotiations, it would be beneficial to explore more fully the responsibilities that we maintain.

Just as perfection must not be the enemy of the good, compromise should not abet the inadequate -- especially since many of us are not utilizing our ability to play a more active and constructive role in ongoing proceedings.

Health care insurance stocks continue to climb because of one simple and irrefutable fact: The public is buying shares. Morningstar's performance tabulation teaches us much: double digit, and in some cases triple digit, one-year % total returns, in a year wracked by financial upheaval, for more than 75% of companies tracked in their health care insurance plan sector -- a sector heavily vested in the status quo and opposing some of the most important changes needed to improve how health care is provided in this country.

It is inaccurate to believe that the "bottom-line" requirement of for-profit health care has the potential to fully align with the urgency of those requiring its care. The conflict between these competing interests is always present, but whether or not it's revealed in clear focus is more a matter of shareholder approval than a commitment to patient well-being. This is not an instance of good versus evil, but rather how markets have been "nurtured" to behave, and that such behavior is not equipped to address the full "nature" of sickness, injury and the requirements of healing. To believe otherwise is to believe that the financial melt down of 2009 was self-correcting.

These observations inform us on how we can improve the prospects of achieving better health care reform legislation from Congress -- if not now, then in the future -- and for enhanced accountability from companies retained to administer that care::
  • 1) We should divest any stock holdings we have in these companies until sufficient reforms are realized.
  • 2) We should contact their shareholder relations departments, informing them what we have done and why, and...
  • 3) We should contact our pension and mutual fund managers, requesting they cease investing our money in these companies, explaining we no longer wish - nor can we afford - underwriting the mixed message of rewarding behavior that's proved so damaging to so many.

After all, how can we blame a Congress unwilling to disregard money during these critical times if we're not willing to hold ourselves to the same standard? It's our prerogative, certainly, but one that serves us poorly -- at least if we're serious about meaningful health care reform. Divestiture helped to end apartheid in South Africa and it can help to improve health care for all Americans.

Divest.