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Other Views: For-profit insurance ruining health care

When I was a kid in the 1950s, my parents’ health insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield, was nonprofit. Everybody chipped in money to help pay for the unlucky few who might need expensive medical care. It was a way that grown-ups worked together to take care of each other. We all took care of each other, like we should. So what happened?

Blue Cross Blue Shield offered “community-rated” nonprofit insurance plans in the ’50s. They equally divided estimated costs of people covered for the next year to set premium charges. There were no high-risk groups. Older, sicker people paid the same premiums as the younger healthy. Premium costs were stable. Everyone was equally in it together for the long run.

During the late ’50s, for-profit health insurance companies started selling cheaper insurance premiums to younger, healthy people, whose claim costs would be low. By creating a cheaper low-risk group, insurance could undercut nonprofit premiums enough to add profit fees for itself. When healthier people abandoned the community-rated plans to buy cheaper for-profit insurance for the short term, Blue Cross Blue Shield was left with fewer healthy people in their pool to help pay claims for older, sicker patients. Premiums climbed. Eventually, all insurance plans were forced to charge different rates based on age and health history, just to keep enough healthy people in their plans as well.

We now have a fragmented system created by the marketplace and controlled by for-profit insurance. People are divided into “risk groups” based on sex, age, prior health and employment. Each group is charged different premiums. Profit is made with each risk-group premium charged and with each claim deferred or denied. The institutional mission for private insurance is to create profit for stockholders and the board of directors—not to serve the larger community’s health needs. This is the exact opposite of what had made community-rated nonprofit insurance work for a diverse population. We’ve gone from taking care of each other in need to every man for himself... if he can afford it.

During my 43 years of family practice, I have seen private health insurance add nothing to quality of care, care provider efficiency and availability, improved communication or advocacy for patients. It has wormed its way into our health system as a middleman, and it manipulates and profits from the fact that we will all age and eventually need more health care, for which we will pay a higher premium. Administrative costs are more than twice as high in as in other nonprofit national health systems. The dysfunction and drain on our resources have become unsustainable.

A national movement to establish Medicare for All is growing, and in Wisconsin, we can model a statewide public option of BadgerCare for All. It would offer a lower-cost nonprofit health insurance to all Wisconsinites, regardless of age, sex, health or finances. Such health insurance would be a state-sponsored service for many, not a corporate profit industry for a few. Hospitals, doctors and care institutions would remain private and independent, giving patients freedom to choose. Since private insurance would need to compete to provide better service at a lower cost, BadgerCare expansion would expose the inflated costs, manipulations and inefficiencies that health insurance profiteering has inflicted on the public. We need affordable, community-wide affordable health insurance, but first we need a strong seat at the table in state government to make it a reality.

Gov. Scott Walker’s recent proposal to direct $200 million into private insurance participating in the Affordable Care Act shows that he wants to look supportive of ACA stability for now. However, his plan would subsidize private insurance only and would weaken protections for pre-existing conditions for ACA-premium buyers and severely penalize those who have had a gap in coverage. “Medicaid savings” to help fund his plan would be created by introducing more obstacles to BadgerCare enrollment, such as with drug testing and work requirements, and would deny health care to many more in need.

Walker’s shell game to finance the ACA for the middle class by cutting BadgerCare funds with “Medicaid savings” is clearly designed for short-term political gain. Weakening BadgerCare at the expense of our most vulnerable and needy is no way to care for each other at times of crisis and need.

The Badgercare Public Option bill is for everyone, not just a few. Let your state representatives know you support the idea.

Your Views: Both Planned Parenthood and the NRA cheapen the value of life

Credible data on gun homicides and abortion in the United States are available. The most recent year I can verify for both is 2014. The Guttmacher Institute (founded by Planned Parenthood) reports abortion totals of 926,200. FBI statistics for 2014 show 11,961 gun homicides. In both cases, the rates are considerably higher for minority and low-income Americans.

No two organizations are more alike in their attitudes and politics than the National Rifle Association and Planned Parenthood. Both groups adamantly oppose even modest regulation as a path to ending freedom as they choose to define it. Both organizations have a political party under their influence.

Both organizations provide some worthwhile services: health screening by Planned Parenthood and gun safety classes by the NRA. Unfortunately, the impact of these services is overwhelmed by the impact their other actions have on public attitudes and public policy. The NRA promotes gun sales, and Planned Parenthood advocates and performs abortions.

The social and moral impact of both organizations is to polarize Americans and cheapen the value of life. It is difficult to put hard numbers to the social and family decay these organizations have created, but I believe it is considerable.

Some restrictions of both gun and abortion availability will not end deaths caused by social and family decay. They might, however, turn the tide by creating a slippery slope in the right direction.



Our Views: Town of Beloit's shooting range proposal unnecessary

A proposal to build a shooting range in the town of Beloit has exposed an unusual rift among local law enforcement agencies. They typically tout their ability to coordinate and collaborate, but they disagree on the answer to a seemingly simple question: Does Rock County need another shooting range?

We don’t see the need because the town of Beloit is welcome to use the shooting range in Janesville—the La Prairie Pistol Range—which includes outdoor and indoor ranges along with a training classroom. The prices are reasonable, too, at $100 for a four-hour slot and $175 for an eight-hour slot.

And if that’s not enough (though it is), Blackhawk Technical College’s police academy has an indoor shooting range, also available for local law enforcement use.

Both the Janesville and Beloit police departments oppose the town’s proposal, and Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said he knew nothing of it until the town sent him a letter this month asking for his support. Moore doesn’t see the benefits, either for his officers or taxpayers.

The letter by Town Administrator Ian Haas and Town of Beloit Police Chief Ron Northop notes, “We are not asking your agency or community to commit to appropriate any funds to this project at this time.”

That phrase “at this time” troubles Moore. “That certainly suggests to me that there’s probably a cost in the future,” he said. “I don’t believe that’s a wise use of Janesville taxpayer money.”

Janesville police have a history of working with other agencies, adding credibility to Moore’s belief that the town’s proposal is unnecessary and ill-advised. In an interview with The Gazette, Moore mentioned a few examples of collaboration:

A mental-health flagging system alerts officers to mental-health issues affecting people officers encounter during service calls. The alerts offer tips for de-esculating potentially dangerous situations. Janesville police share this service with other departments, including the town of Beloit.

Janesville and Beloit police departments and the Rock County Sheriff’s Office together bought a Lenco BearCat armored vehicle for SWAT teams, which the three agencies also manage together.

The agencies also coordinate crowd-control efforts, such as during presidential candidate visits.

The town of Beloit has faced criticism recently for taking a go-it-alone approach to regional issues, such its decision to withdraw from the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce and Greater Beloit Economic Development Council. That happened at about the same time the town filed a petition with the state to incorporate as a village, which is opposed by both the city of Beloit and Rock County.

The town has shown it can cooperate. It recently agreed to loan its fire chief, Gene Wright, to the Clinton Fire Department until Clinton is able to find a permanent replacement. But the town’s estimated $250,000 shooting range proposal is bewildering, especially given the Janesville shooting range’s proximity and reasonable rates.

Town residents should expect their representatives to coordinate with other local agencies and seek out common ground—not competition—while working to address the town’s needs.

Shapiro: 'We have to do something'

The gun control debate is complex. It pits rights against duties. It pits individualism against communitarianism. It pits gun owners against anti-gun activists, and law-abiding citizens against one another.

Most of all, it pits “common sense” against evidence. The vast majority of gun control proponents keep talking about “common sense” gun control, as though Americans could simply blue-sky some ideas about curbing highly sporadic acts of violence and fix the problem immediately—and as though Americans were suffering from lack of will, rather than disagreement about method. That’s simply not the case.

But there are things we can do.

Let’s begin with the easiest thing: We can insist that our law enforcement agencies actually enforce the law. The Parkland, Florida, shooting occurred because the FBI failed to do its job. Not once but twice, the FBI was warned about the shooter. And not once but twice, it ignored the warnings. That isn’t rare.

We know that law enforcement screwed up in the South Carolina black church massacre; we know it screwed up in the Texas church massacre; we know it screwed up in San Bernardino. We know that, as of 2013, out of 48,321 cases against straw buyers—people who buy guns for others, including those who aren’t legally allowed to buy them—just 44 had been prosecuted. We know that as of 2013, there were nearly 20,000 people in California alone who weren’t legally allowed to own guns but owned them anyway. Giving the government more legal power to confiscate weaponry or prosecute those who are dangerous means nothing if the government blows every available opportunity.

But we can do more.

David French at National Review suggests an option: gun-violence restraining orders, or GRVOs. These would allow family members to apply for an order enabling the legal authorities to temporarily remove guns from those who are deemed to be a significant danger to themselves or others. Furthermore, we should ensure more transparency in the background-check system with regard to mental health records, and we should look to ease the regulations on involuntary commitment of the dangerously mentally ill.

We should also radically increase security in schools. I attended a Jewish high school that was regularly threatened with violence. Every student who attends that school is now checked in by security; the school has barriers on every side; armed security guards attend the campus.

The same measures should be available at every public school. Complaints about the so-called school-to-prison pipeline created by the presence of law enforcement at schools seem to be overblown, according to the data—and, more importantly, it’s the school’s job to ensure the safety of students, not to protect students against their own criminal behavior.

These are simple measures that should be able to achieve broad agreement. But they probably won’t, because it’s too politically useful for the left to rail broadly about gun control. The biggest problem with the gun control debate has been its failure to boil down slogans to proposals. That problem won’t be alleviated so long as the media insist on putting mourning teenagers on television with the chyron “DO SOMETHING.” Something is nothing unless someone puts some actual proposals on the table.

Ben Shapiro is host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and editor-in-chief of