OPINION: Think Government Shutdowns Are Bad Now? Wait Until The Feds Control Health Care

Dr. Chad Savage Heartland Institute
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During January’s government shutdown, more than 800,000 federal workers were left wondering when they would receive their next paycheck. Many were forced to come to work, having vital job functions, not knowing if their efforts would be rewarded. Although the shutdown has finally abated, another potential shutdown is just around the corner, which should serve as a warning regarding health care: The federal government is an unreliable partner.

Those of us in the health-care industry who have spent countless hours wading through oceans of red tape learned that lesson long ago. Despite all their meddling, the federal government and its army of bureaucrats have only made the health-care marketplace worse. Health insurance premiums in Obamacare exchanges are twice as high as they were before the Affordable Care Act was implemented. Deductibles are through the roof. Regulatory burdens make it harder than ever for health care innovators and entrepreneurs to introduce new products and services.

The failure of policymakers to resolve what amounts to a relatively simple political dispute, coupled with the government’s long track record of failure in other endeavors, should make Americans more skeptical of the government expanding its role in health care. Unfortunately, that has yet to occur. Government has unquestionably made health care and health insurance more expensive, yet an increasingly greater number of people seem to think that government should have more power in health care. Many want government to run the entire health-care system.

Let’s think for just a moment about just how disastrous expanding government’s power over health care would be. Under such a scheme, nearly all physicians would either receive payments from or work directly for the federal government, which routinely runs deficits topping $500 billion and now has amassed a national debt of nearly $22 trillion. The feds can’t even manage to run Amtrak without incurring $168 million in debt. Just imagine how much trouble these bureaucrats would have with the health-care industry, one of the most complex and important parts of the U.S. economy.

For those of you who might be tempted to think the government would be better equipped to handle health care, the disastrous and highly mismanaged VA Health care system should serve as proof of just how incompetent the federal government can be in this area. Doctors working with government programs are already exposed to arbitrary payment models adopted by federal officials — models that many physicians say are highly unreliable. All too often, doctors are refused pay after they have already done the work, requiring them to resubmit claims in hope of finally get paid. Even then, payments from the federal government are typically much lower than what doctors receive from private health insurance providers. In some cases, physicians even lose money.

Health care can be challenging enough without injecting the dysfunction of Washington, D.C. into it. How can anyone watching what’s now happening in Congress believe the same politicians failing repeatedly to fix even the smallest of problems should have control over the health-care system, which deals with life and death issues every single day?

Here’s a better idea: Instead of empowering government bureaucrats and forcing tens of millions of American families now receiving private health insurance to depend on government, let’s keep the power with the people — you know, the folks who are actually in need of health care — by expanding health savings accounts, encouraging direct primary care, and implementing more policies that embrace free-market principles. By keeping the purchasing power with the people, we can have a 330-million-party payer system, which would increase options for everyone and catalyze innovation.

With patients in control of health-care dollars, they will seek better prices and better care, and as a result, they’ll get both.

Chad Savage, M.D. is a policy fellow at the nonprofit Docs 4 Patient Care Foundation and a policy adviser at the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates for limited government.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.