My rich uncle David was a wise investor. At least that was the legend in my family. His legendary wealth would have put him firmly at the lower end of the middle class for the 1950’s, but by our standards he was right up there with John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. In truth, he was my only relative who invested in anything beyond taking care of his family. He loved being asked to reveal the secret to his success. The question itself was confirmation of his exalted status.
“Utilities, son, utilities,” he pronounced with all the gravitas of the line “plastics” in the film "The Graduate." “The utility companies are the only sure thing on Wall Street. They are monopolies with a guaranteed profit. Never up, never down, just steady as the flow of natural gas through a pipeline."
Thinking about my rich uncle gave me an idea about the health care crisis. We should treat health care in America like we do electricity generation and natural gas transmission. First, let the existing health insurance companies file bid proposals to become one of 11 regional health care monopolies. The regions would correspond to the Federal Circuit Court Districts. Each region would have its regulatory board which would be authorized to approve prices of health care for that region.
The basic rules of the Health care monopoly would be:
1. No one is denied health care—period. We do not provide electricity only to the wealthy, why should health care be any different?
2. The cost of health care is apportioned to every American in the form of a national one percent sales tax on everything except food. Those who spend more money will be supporting health care for those who cannot.
3. All Healthcare monopolies are held to uniform standards of record keeping.
4. Monopoly Health Care insurers will have a guaranteed profit margin, making them attractive to conservative investors.
Regulated utilities chafe constantly at government regulation. But it would be difficult to sustain the accusation that AmerenUE or Laclede Gas are the creations of crazed socialists.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.