Time to reform, not deform, health care

Patrick Chisholm Writer/Editor, PolicyDynamics.Org
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It’s time for Republicans to push for health care reform with the same amount of fire and enthusiasm that Democrats have pushed for health care deform.

Government has deformed our health care system. It’s the main reason why some 47 million are uninsured.

Obamacare and especially “single payer” are the ultimate irony. They would intensify government’s involvement a thousandfold, turning our delivery system into something so warped and distorted that subpar quality, months-long wait lines, and wildly out-of-control federal spending would rule the day.

Someone once anonymously commented, “Socialists do everything in their power to hamper the basic mechanisms of capitalism and then complain that capitalism does not work and is unfair to the poor.”

We’re in the midst of a classic case of that. Government has hampered the basic mechanisms of health care. The left then blames the free market. So they push for even more government involvement. And the vicious circle continues.

No, the key to reducing the number of uninsured is to get government out of health care.

With Obamacare on life support or hopefully dead, it’s time to embark on real reform by undoing the cacophony of mandates, restrictions, and tax code manipulations that have so pushed up the price of health care.

OK, maybe that’ll be a little tough while Democrats still run the show. But Republicans should start championing that now to gear up for the day–one hopes–that they run the show.

In the meantime, don’t accept watered-down deform. Rumor has it Democrats may jettison from Obamacare things like the individual mandate and just opt for draconian regulation on insurance companies like “guaranteed issue” and “community rating.” That would devastate the insurance market, putting Democrats in a position to erroneously blame the free market again in an effort to justify “single-payer.”

Key planks of real reform:

End the tax code monstrosity that favors employer-provided health insurance. With most Americans getting health insurance thought their jobs, they have no incentive to shop around for the best price. Healthcare and insurance providers in turn have a lot less incentive to lower their prices. So the unemployed, self-employed, and people working for companies that don’t offer health insurance are left out in the cold—a big reason for the 47 million uninsured.

Allow insurance companies to compete across state lines. Nationwide competition would further incentivize them to lower prices and/or boost options in an effort to attract customers.
End government mandates on what insurance companies cover. Nationwide competition would help facilitate this. The Council on Affordable Health Insurance estimates that mandated benefits raise the cost of health coverage anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent depending on the state.

Such mandates include contraceptives, in-vitro fertilization, acupuncture, alcoholism treatment, smoking cessation treatment, massage therapy, and marriage therapy. Imagine how many more millions of people could afford coverage without the more-than 2,000 mandates (according to the council) that exist.

Create health savings accounts for all, coupled with high-deductible insurance. Paying for routine exams and under-$1,000 treatments out of pocket, with money from your HSA, would definitely prompt you to shop around for the best price and quality, in turn inducing health care providers to substantially lower their prices to get your business. Right now, knowing that insurance companies will pick up the tab even for minor procedures, providers are far less inhibited from jacking up their rates.

Tort reform. Less “defensive medicine” and smaller legal bills would bring down costs considerably.

Want evidence that getting government out of health care really works? At certain U.S. hospitals you can get surgery done for about one-tenth the price what you’d pay for the same surgery elsewhere.

But you have to be a dog. Animal hospitals have to aggressively compete for cost-conscious buyers.

You probably pay out of pocket for most of your pet’s health care, and may have insurance in the event of major bills. You don’t get pet health insurance through your job. There aren’t myriad government mandates on what pet health insurance must cover. Pet health insurance companies aren’t confined to single states. And lawyers aren’t circling veterinarians poised to sue at any moment like they are with humans’ doctors.

Without government meddling in healthcare financing, there’d be a diversity of insurance plans tailored to a diversity of individual needs. Don’t want to pay for the massage therapy of others? Then don’t buy an insurance plan that covers it. Do want massage therapy? There’d probably be a plan that covers it—without being mandated by the government.

So let’s get away from the Democrats’ mentality of starting a huge new government program to try to correct the deform wrought by other government programs. That would just twist things out of shape even more. Instead, end the government intrusions that led to all the mayhem. Then we’d get real healthcare reform.
Patrick Chisholm, a former Christian Science Monitor columnist, runs PolicyDynamics.Org and is founder & creative director of Accentance, Inc. E-mail: pat@policydynamics.org.