Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Healthcare is next

Steve Forbes on the coming fight over socialized medicine:

Let's clear up some of the myths. Both Medicare and Medi-caid are heavily subsidized by privately insured patients, to the tune of $90 billion a year. Federal reimbursement in these two programs is far below cost, which is why an increasing number of doctors are refusing to treat or are substantially cutting back on the number of Medicare and Medicaid patients they see.

Medicare and Medicaid are rife with fraud. Unlike private insurers, the government refuses to spend real resources on routing out the wrongdoing: overbilling, overtesting and charging for visits not made or tests not given.

The health care industry is 17% of our economy, and we are about to turn it over to the government. The results will be a substantial decline in quality of care, long waits for treatment of chronic or terminal illnesses (if you get treated at all), and a decline in innovation. The Forbes editorial brings up the excellent point that in our current medicaid system, treatment for medicaid patients is often subsidized by patients with private insurance. Medicare/medicaid does not pay market value for treatment, and usually makes these payments late. The result is that health care providers are forced to charge more overall for services -- meaning people with private insurance cover not only their own treatment, but the gap between medicaid and reality.

Another facet of reality that gets ignored when liberals start talking about socialized medicine is that European socialized health systems are in fact subsidized by the US taxpayer through our military involvement abroad. The US heavily subsidizes European defense. Most EU countries have little or no capability to defend themselves and they rely on the US military to do it for them. Yugoslavia in the 90's is the prime example of Europe's military impotence. Instead of spending money on their military, they dump vast sums into various welfare programs.

Forbes does a good job of outlining a free market solution, that not only would provide more people with care, but would improve the overall quality of care for everyone:

--Allow mandate-free insurance policies. True catastrophic health insurance--not the current dollar-for-dollar coverage--is very affordable.
--Permit people to buy health insurance across state lines. Removing such barriers would sharply increase competition.
--Make it easier for small businesses to buy insurance in a pool, whether through trade associations or other kinds of affiliations.
--Equalize the tax treatment of premiums. Companies get a tax deduction for health insurance premiums, as do the self-employed. Why not give that break to employees who choose to buy their own individual policies? They would get a deduction or a refundable tax credit (meaning if they don't have a tax liability they'd get an actual check from Uncle Sam). Many small businesses offer no insurance, or those that do may offer policies some workers find unsatisfactory. These folks should have the ability to easily get their own alternatives.
--Raise limits on contributions to HSAs and on permissible deductibles.

Ultimately we have to foster a culture of responsibility when it comes to health. The effects of a great many health issues - obesity, type II diabetes, heart conditions - can be substantially mitigated, if not eliminated through diet, exercise, and healthy life style choices. Without a sense of personal responsibility towards our health, otherwise avoidable health problems could quickly overwhelm any health care system.

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