Who do you trust more -- the Post Office or your health insurance company?
Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele and his consultants at the GOP think they have a winning line of attack on President Obama and his campaign to overhaul the health care system. It entails dissing the U.S. Postal Service.
In a fundraising e-mail sent out Thursday, Steele started with a statement Obama recently made to support including a government-run health insurance plan in the health care reform package:
I think private insurers should be able to compete. . . . I mean, if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. It's the Post Office that's always having problems.
Obama was countering the claim made by critics that a government plan would drive private insurers out of the market. His point was that private delivery services are still able to thrive, despite competition from the Post Office. But Steele maintained that Obama was acknowledging a bedrock GOP principle: The private sector does a better job.
That was stretching the truth. Still, Steele went on to contend that a government-run health care plan "is inefficient, limits choices, and hemorrhages taxpayer money like the Post Office."
By going postal, can Steele undermine Obama's reform effort? Not if facts matter. True, the Postal Service has had serious financial problems; it expects to lose several billion dollars this year. But when debating the public option, the better comparison is the obvious one: Medicare. A public health plan would in many ways ape Medicare, a generally efficient and effective program that remains largely popular among the elderly who use it. Does Steele want to argue that Medicare is a loser? Despite the fiscal challenges Medicare faces, denigrating it would hardly win the GOP many votes.
The Post Office is a much easier target. Yet in terms of services provided, I would rate it far ahead of the private health care insurers I've had to deal with. Consider this: You can put a letter, photo or whatnot in an envelope, scribble an address on that envelope, drop it in a box, and within a matter of days that very same envelope will appear at the door of the recipient, wherever he or she may live in the United States, even if it's thousands of miles away. All for 44 cents. Federal Express and UPS don't do that -- at that price. (I wonder what their financial situations would be, if they had to operate a universal delivery system and charge so little.)
The USPS achieves this nearly miraculous feat millions of times a day. Sure, a letter or parcel here or there gets misplaced, but how many times have you lost something in the mail? Not many. And most of the letter carriers I have known have been courteous, friendly and helpful. My local post office is staffed by clerks who offer quick and efficient service -- often with a smile. (I realize that's not par for the course everywhere.) The Postal Service even has an inspiring unofficial
motto: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." I say, at least two cheers for the Post Office.
Compare all this to health insurance companies. My experiences with them -- particularly Oxford -- have frequently been nightmarish. They routinely don't respond to claims. They often say claims were not received. Or they maintain they cannot make out one piece of information on the claim (the date, the numerical code of the service rendered, etc.). They appear to do whatever they can to duck claims. Then, if they acknowledge receiving a properly filed claim, they often do whatever they can to deny it in full or part. I'm fortunate; I have not yet had to go through any major medical episodes. But regarding routine matters, I usually have had to fight to have claims honored. Without question, of all the service providers I interact with, health insurers have been the most aggravating -- and this includes various DMVs. In a way, their behavior makes sense; they profit when they don't assist their customers. (What might their motto be: "First, lose the claim"?)
In trying to sink health care reform, Steele can take his cheap shots at the post office. It's a misleading attack. (A government-run plan would not provide health care; it would disseminate reimbursements for services delivered by private-sector or non-profit medical professionals.) But by mentioning the Postal Service in the same breath as the private insurers, Steele has done an injustice to hard-working letter carriers. After all, postal workers do a much better job of delivering claims than the insurance firms do of honoring them. You can follow my postings and media appearances on Twitter.