Sunday, September 6, 2009


It’s time for a little science lesson. I studied Environmental Science in college, and while I didn’t go further than undergrad, I took enough biology classes to learn the basic principles of parisitism.

From Wiki:
Parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship between two different organisms where one organism, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the host.

Unlike mutualism, in which both parasite and host benefit from the relationship, parasitic relationships benefit one party while hurting the other. However, one of the things we learned in evolutionary biology is that successful parasites may damage their hosts but do not kill them until the parasite is well-enough established that it can move to a new host. Killing your host before you’re able to move on to a new one, after all, is to sign your own death warrant.

Which is the perfect segue to my healthcare discussion. Once upon a time health insurance was created to pool risk, thereby lowering costs for consumers. This may have been a mutually beneficial relationship in the beginning but somewhere along the way the insurance game changed. It no longer functions to lower costs for consumers. Instead, through tactics like dumping policyholders when they get sick, denying benefits, buying up competitors through mergers and acquisitions, and other tactics revealed by whistleblowers such as Wendell Potter and the California nurses’ union, it functions to serve its own profit and growth at the expense of healthcare consumers. We all suffer; even if you have great insurance, you are paying for those who do not through higher healthcare costs and higher premiums.

The relationship has changed, in other words, to a parasitic one. It is hurting its host--us--with 40 million+ uninsured and skyrocketing costs that bankrupt individuals and hamstring businesses which increasingly cannot afford policies for their employees.

I don’t think, under our modern system, it is hyperbole to call insurance companies “parasites.”

It’s also important to look at what new host these parasitic entities will jump to when they have depleted our current system, which they are very close to doing. I happen to think that it could be a public option with triggers--triggers that will never, ever be met, just as the trigger in Medicare Part D has never, ever been met, despite thousands of seniors falling into the “donut hole.” Without a public option to compete alongside private insurance, there will be no real competition, and no incentive for insurance companies to lower costs. A triggered public option is a fantasy designed to appease scaredy-cat Democrats and give talking heads on TV something to chew on, but it's meaningless.

This healthcare reform discussion has been dominated by industry from day one. Putting the parasite in charge of saving the host might have made sense to someone who forgot that parasites can change hosts. We have only to look at the natural world to see how little sense that makes.