Oprah Takes on Health Insurance

Oprah took on healthcare, insurance and the lack thereof today. While I think she did an astounding job of moving the discussion forward, I think a major point was missed — and needs to be pointed out.

Joining Oprah were Michael Moore, the director and producer of Sicko, Karen Ignagni who is the top lobbyist for the association of health care insurers, and Uwe Reinhardt, a health economist. The debate was heated, hit many of the important points, and during the hour, Oprah asked several times, “What do we believe?”

Believe? Here’s how it was posed: “Do we believe the child of a gas station attendant and the child of a CEO deserve the same access to healthcare?”

How many answers can there be? Of COURSE that child should have the same access!

.. but guess what… they don’t.

This is not new to anyone. And then, of course, the question about the 47 million Americans who don’t have health insurance is imposed…. but then — Joe Average American retreats to this thought process, “well, at least I’m insured and my family is insured, and I’m only one person anyway, and there’s nothing I can do about it, because I am only one person.”

Here’s the point that was missing — The great majority of Americans think like Joe Average American — and that thinking is flawed! Joe Average American — you have missed the point! Joe — you have coverage that isn’t going to cover what you think it is! You have coverage that will pay far less than you think it will, despite the fact that it has already cost you hundreds if not a thousand dollars a month just to have that coverage to begin with!

Yes — Lisa Ling showed the stories of three people who had insurance, yet were denied care. Those are huge, and sad, stories.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those people who need help with normal, every day care. Their child breaks a leg? It costs them hundreds or thousands of dollars in addition to their insurance coverage. Find out you’ve got allergies? It will be declared a pre-existing condition and it won’t be covered. You’ve got GERD? Even though your health is covered, you prescriptions may not be — it will cost you an additional $300 or $400 per year for the drug you need.

Michael Moore and Oprah reiterated a number of times that they don’t understand why anyone should profit from healthcare. And I do differ with them on that, at least to a degree. I think that profitability is a great motivator for innovation, and it’s profit that drives good research, new discoveries and treatments, and eventually, advanced care.

But I don’t believe that’s true for insurance. Profitability should not be allowed when it comes to human lives.

For those who have insurance and who think they have decent insurance (even though they are usually wrong) …. be advised that you are likely clueless about how little coverage you really have. Be advised that your healthcare dollar won’t go nearly so far as you think it will. And be advised that the health insurance lobby owns too many legislators who will make sure that doesn’t change anytime soon.

I don’t know how Karen Ignagni sleeps at night. Honestly. I’ve seen spin doctors, but hers spins only a much more tangled web.

And those tangles are costing more lives every day.


Find more commentary on Sicko here.

Want more tools and commentary for sharp patients?
Sign up for Every Patient’s Advocate once-a-week or so email tipsOr link here to empower yourself at

1 thought on “Oprah Takes on Health Insurance”

  1. The other point that was totally missed was price and cost. No mention that physicians here earn more than in any other country, that pharmaceuticals costs pennies to make but are sold at outrageous prices (yes I know R&D but what about all the marketing spend too), that hospital charges versus what you pay is out of whack and out of sync from hospital to hospital. I commend the insurance spokesperson for going on but there are a lot of other people to point finger at as well.

Comments are closed.

Trisha Torrey
Scroll to Top