Friday, January 08, 2010

What Health Care Reform Should Look Like

You have heard the old saying about the "cure being worse than the disease" and that definitely seems to be the case when it comes to the health care reform debate. Virtually every reform suggested will make health care more expensive and reduce the accessibility of quality care for the vast majority of Americans who are already covered. This will happen because they will have to pay for both the private system and the public system. This will likely have the same effect that the government has had on education...sure, every one can use private schools, but you are going to have to still pay for the government schools. The result of this type of policy is that 90 percent of all young people go to public, rather than private, schools.

This is a shame, considering that the US has the best health care system in the world. The life expectancy of the average American has increased by over a third in the past sixty years - from 57 to 78 years. The US is the health care capital of the world, with hundreds of thousands of people traveling here for consultations with our physicians and treatment in our hospitals. Furthermore, the U.S. has the highest cancer survival rate in the world. According to the American Cancer Society, two out of three American cancer patients are alive five years after diagnosis. This stands in stark contrast to the situation in Britain (which is under a national health care system) where barely one half of cancer patients survive five years. Over time, almost half of those in Britain with breast cancer will die (48 percent), while only one fourth with die in the US (25 percent). It is not surprising that the majority of Americans prefer their health care over a government model, according to Fox News.

To make matters worse, the biggest issues when it comes to health care are not being addressed. One of the most important of these is role of the states. The federal government does not have a proper role when it comes to health care reform. According to Article I, Section 8, the Congress has seventeen powers, none of them include forcing people to buy something they do not want to purchase. With that, the states should continue to pursue various approaches in an effort to find a better way to pursue health care reform, including:

  • Restoring competition among companies nationwide. Right now you can only buy insurance from companies that are in your state. Every effort should be made for individuals to be able to buy plans around the country and for states to reduce and eliminate mandates that essentially prohibit such.
  • Fostering individual choice and competition through Health Savings Accounts. One of the biggest problems with health care is the lack of individual responsibility and freedom. If people had to pay more for certain health care procedures, they would think economically about their health care. One of the reasons why HMOs were largely a disaster is that the cost of visiting a physician was below anything market. People faced lines and had Department of Motor Vehicle treatment. The same is around the corner with socialized health care. With HSAs, an employer could provide for many procedures -- tax free -- directly to the employee. Meanwhile these plans could be bolstered with very high deductible plans (that are quite affordable) to cover major illness or injury.
  • Encouraging competition and portability. The states should break down the barriers that prevent true competition when it comes to the purchase of health insurance policies. Some states have only one or two carriers because of ridiculous mandates. Freedom of choice should fall on the consumer.
  • Serious tort reform. One of the single biggest drivers in health care costs is law suits. According to Fox News, many doctors pay as much as $200,000 a year in insurance coverage. Medical malpractice lawsuits add an enormous cost to the practice of medicine. No one is advocating that people should not have recourse for when things go wrong, but if the cost is open ended, the risks are enormous, leading to high insurance premiums and, in turn, the cost of going to a physician. The Democrats, who are driving the health care reform debate, have a very cynical view of the importance of tort reform. Howard Dean, while serving as the Party's chairman, said he "did not want to take on the lawyers," expressing greater concern about one of his party's constituencies than over real reform.
This list, of course, is only a beginning. Meaningful discussions on the cost of regulation, the impact price fixing has on physicians who accept Medicare and Medicaid, and many other topics are worthy of debate. What is most important is that we return the discussion where it belongs -- in state capitals around the country -- and we seek solutions grounded in freedom and not in more government.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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