Balloons and medical care

Published 10:40 am Saturday, October 19, 2019

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All of us from time to time have seen someone at a park or street event blow up balloons and make them into various shapes. We all enjoy this as entertainment, child and adult alike. We watch as he moves air from one part to another in the balloon and twists it here and there. He gives children the products of his labor, shaped like pets or hats. Yet, we all know it is still just a balloon with air.

We don’t like this quite as much when we realize that government deals with medical care the same way. Pushing costs here or there and twisting and turning to make it look like it is something different than it is.

Every attempt at making medical care fairer and less expensive simply moves the equation so that a different identity pays the tab. Every time there is a new twist, it gets more expensive and less efficient than it was before government became involved.

Take for example the most recent actions. The federal government passed legislation that was ironically called “The Affordable Care Act,” sometimes referred to as ACA and sometimes “Obamacare.” It has proven neither affordable or, in some cases, care.

As an example, it required all health care policies to have maternity coverage. That may be good for younger couples, but for couples passed their childbearing years in their 50s and 60s it was a valueless addition, but it increased their policy premiums over $1,000 a month. This forced many into the federal program that operates on a sliding scale based on family income level. Because that sliding scale often pushed families with reasonable incomes into a higher deductible policy to be able to pay the monthly premium, they now have to pay far more out of pocket than ever before.

Of course, this legislation required a larger investment from the federal government to administrate than we were ever told about. Much to the surprise of the proponents of this legislation, people that paid the least wanted more medical care than planned. As it grows, therefore, the federal government has to figure out ways to save money. One way is to reimburse private providers less per service. Forcing doctors to work longer hours to maintain a similar lifestyle.

Another trick is to pretend something is one thing that it is not. A regular joke is, if you have to go to the hospital because of chest pains and they hold you there for observation, you best have a heart attack. The rules now are that the hospital can keep you for three days, but if it turns out you don’t have a heart attack, the government will not consider it a valid reason for being at the hospital and they will refuse to reimburse the hospital, leaving someone holding the bag. This past week, I experienced just that. I went to the emergency room for an issue. I was operated on in the late afternoon and was watched through the night to ensure the issue had been dealt with successfully. I was given no option to stay or leave. Within days, I received a letter saying that because the procedure had been successful, they were rejecting paying for the night in the hospital. I could go on with example after example, but you see the point.


If we simply stop expecting government to be able to accomplish everything, common sense would be the prevailing way that care would be provided.

I remember discussing health care with the then Speaker of the North Carolina House. He pointed out that we do not buy auto insurance for wearing out tires or for oil changes. Yet, we expect all trips to see a medical provider to be covered by insurance. This drives up the cost of administering that policy at the clinic office as well as at the insurance company. A more practical plan might be to contract with the clinic for services on an annual basis whether seen in person, by phone or by email. We need to reform the system rather than continue to twist it more and more out of shape.

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is