Opinion

GOP Plan May Shove Single-Payer Medicine Down America’s Throat

Adam Berry / Getty Images News

Steven Weissman Former Hospital President

Perhaps inadvertently, but as sure as day follows night, the Grand Old Party may shove single payer socialized medicine down America’s throat.

Ordinary citizens feel the financial pain with every invoice from a hospital, lab or physician. The sum total of consumer invoices for medical services and pharmaceuticals is the cost of U.S. healthcare. It is that simple. Insurance is just a way to pay these bills – it is just financing. Premiums skyrocketed because medical bills skyrocketed.

The U.S. government’s own projections confirm that growth in medical pricing will drive the growth in total national health costs: “Throughout the 2016-25 projection period, growth in national health expenditures is driven by projected faster growth in medical prices.” The GOP’s focus on insurance premiums while totally ignoring the pricing of medical services, is madness!

The healthcare industry spends more on lobbying than the defense, aerospace, and the oil and gas industries combined. Politicians have sold us out, permitting hospitals, labs and physicians to avoid the very price competition that is our nation’s only pricing constraint.

Ask any hospital, lab or physician the price of anything and all you ever get back is a question: “What insurance do you have?” It’s all smoke and mirrors. Nobody knows how prices are determined. A simple blood test for cholesterol can range from $10 to $400 or more at the same lab. Hospitalization for chest pain can result in a bill from the same hospital for the same services ranging anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 or more.

The pricing of medical services is predatory. Your price depends on how much can be extracted from you on an individual basis, often at your most vulnerable. If you are out-of-network or uninsured you may pay 3 to 100 times more than others are charged for the same service by the same provider.

At the neighborhood grocery or gas station everyone pays the same amount: price discrimination is not permitted. All sellers of consumer goods and services, except medical providers, are subject to rules designed to foster free and competitive markets where consumers can compare prices and shop for value.

The solution is simple, but never mentioned by any politician: Congress must compel medical providers to play by the same rules that apply to all other sellers of consumer goods and services. They should remain free to set their own prices. However, providers must be prohibited from billing each patient a different price for the same service. In short, legitimate pricing of health services is all that is necessary to cure our system.

Legitimate pricing would mean networks are obsolete. We could shop any healthcare provider in the nation without being price gouged for being out-of-network or uninsured. Medical providers would be compelled, like all other businesses, to offer competitive pricing to survive.

Without networks, Americans would no longer be limited to choosing from a handful of providers in a particular locale. That is not freedom.

Real free market competition by healthcare providers will reduce health expenditures by a minimum of 33% — overnight (and the USA would still have approximately the highest cost per person healthcare on earth).

Many on the right have theorized that Obamacare was designed to fail to clear the path for a single payer system. Since all GOP firepower is now erroneously aimed at the health insurance market, as projected, medical pricing will continue to rise. This time around pricing failure will be cited as conclusive proof that free markets do not work. But the truth appears to be that not a single solitary politician on either side of the aisle has ever so much as acknowledged the need for free market competition by hospitals, labs and physicians.

On the current path, voter disgust would likely culminate in capitulation. The GOP’s misdirection of political firepower would result in single payer medicine being shoved down our throats. Politicians, along with the lobbyists who designed this mess, would then be fully empowered to “fix” prices and terms of service for everyone. Absent widespread public recognition of the actual pricing problem and a popular uprising, that’s today’s sad reality.