This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

August 20 2010 - health care

Last week, on vacation, I drove down to Salida to see a friend. In the park across from the library was a health care protest. In tone, it was much like the many wild emails I've gotten lately about the scary takeover of medical care by big government.

I don't claim to be an expert. But speaking as an administrator of a public agency, I can tell you this: it's scary right now.

According to an article in the Washington Post (January 25, 2009), "A growing number of workers in 2009 will pay more for health benefits -- and in some cases receive less coverage -- as their employers grapple with the financial fallout of rising medical expenses and diminished revenue and profits, recent surveys of human resource officials show."

In another article (Medical News Today), I read that, "In 1999, employers covered about 90% of the cost of health insurance for employees, compared with 73% today, and the percentage likely will decrease to 70% over the next few years."

At a recent meeting with some of my counterparts at other government agencies, I heard, over and over, that many will be instituting hiring freezes. Why? Declining revenues, just as in the private sector.

At the same time, most of my peers are projecting health insurance jumps of 25 percent. That would seem to mean that not only will many employees -- public and private alike -- not get raises, but will also see a real reduction in their pay due to insurance company rate increases, and a shifting of those costs directly to workers.

Will they get more coverage in exchange? It seems unlikely. Instead, many employers are pushing high-deductible "health savings accounts" and programs aimed at keeping workers healthy through diet and exercise. In itself, that's not a bad thing. But then why the big jump in costs?

In a piece from the AFL-CIO website, I read, "Profits at 10 of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007, while consumers paid more for less coverage. One of the major reasons, according to a new study, is the growing lack of competition in the private health insurance industry that has led to near monopoly conditions in many markets."

It is common to hear people complaining, in scripted "tea parties" and so on, about out-of-control government. But I pay a lot more for health insurance than I do for schools, for instance, and have a lot less say about it. For schools or libraries, an increase in my costs buys me an increase in service. The insurance business doesn't seem to work like that. It increases its rates to ensure profits, no matter what the effect might be on local business and government, or the people who work in them.

As I say, I'm not an expert, but the situation does make me scratch my head and wonder. While I'm not sure outrage does any actual good, maybe a little more outrage should be directed toward the problem we have today, instead of at the attempt to do something about it.

LaRue's Views are his own.

P.S. After running this article, I asked our staff to pull together a list of further sources of information about this topic. You can find it at:

Happy (and healthy) reading!

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