How Defending the Profits of the Health Insurance Industry is Unique to America

One peculiar feature of the debate over health care reform has been the need by the administration to constantly invoke their intentions to protect the profits of the insurance industry. This refrain appears repeatedly in the President's speeches, and has emerged again in an address by the Vice President :

Vice President Biden added his voice Tuesday to the administration's efforts to reform health care, telling a meeting of state insurance commissioners that tighter regulation of the industry is needed to protect consumers and slow the spiraling cost of medical coverage.

Far from destroying the profitability of health insurance companies, the new regulations envisioned by President Obama would enhance competition and choice for consumers while creating a bounty of new customers, Biden said.

"So, the profits might not be as high per person they cover, but there will be a much larger pool of paying customers," he said.

What's worth noting is that while the other advanced capitalist democracies have a wide array of health-care systems, from the socialized British model, to the government as insurer system in countries like Canada and Taiwan, to a diversity of social insurance systems in Continental Europe and Japan, what they all have in common is that for-profit health insurance companies are the exception rather than the rule. By and large, private insurers in the rest of the industrialized world are mandated to be non-profit, at least at the level of basic care. Of course, this helps keep their health care so affordable compared to the United States.

But, while the Obama administration may play up the need to protect the profits of the health insurance industry, at least they've highlighted their desire for carving a role for a small non-profit sector via the so-called Public Option. But, as we've seen, the entrenched interests of the health insurance lobby is such that even this concession is likely to be discarded in the Senate version of the bill.

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