Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs The health care reform debate - pitting President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats on one side against Republicans and conservative Democrats on the other - is wildly misnamed.
After all, there is nothing wrong with health care in the United States today. Our health care professionals and the services they provide are the finest in the world.
The real issue is who is responsible for making health care decisions and who is responsible for paying for those decisions.
Simply put: Are you or the government responsible for your health care?
So, instead of talking about health care reform, we should have an honest debate about health care responsibility.
I believe it is every individual's responsibility to make his or her own health care decisions and to pay for those decisions. Notably, our nation's founders did not include the provision of health care within the Constitution. Besides the lack of constitutional authority, every existing federal health care program to date is an economic failure and does not provide care equal to that available in the private marketplace.
Is there a better way? Yes.
The economist Dr. Arthur Laffer, a member of the Reagan administration and for whom the "Laffer Curve" is named (the centuries-old concept that increasing taxes beyond a certain point results in lower, not higher, tax revenue), published a study this week evaluating the current health care legislation while simultaneously suggesting an alternative proposal emphasizing individual responsibility for health care.
Laffer's research concludes that during the next 10 years - and above and beyond the current spiraling costs associated with the status quo - the legislation currently before Congress would:
- Raise federal expenditures by 5.6 percent, adding $285.6 billion to the deficit;
- Increase heath care expenditures by 8.9 percent;
- Raise medical price inflation by 5.2 percent;
- Slow U.S. economic growth by 4.9 percent;
- Increase the cost of funding health care reform by $1.3 trillion, or $4,354 for every man, woman and child; and
- Insure one-third of those currently without insurance - at a cost of $62,500 per new person insured.
Instead of the current legislation, Laffer argues, "The path to true health care reform is through patient-centered solutions which emphasize the patient-doctor relationship : by allowing patients and doctors to make more effective and economical health care choices."
Laffer suggests it would be better to:
- Provide for individual ownership of insurance policies: The tax deduction that allows employers to own your insurance instead should be given to the individual;
- Better leverage Health Savings Accounts: HSAs empower individuals to monitor their health care costs and create incentives for individuals to use only those services that are necessary;
- Allow interstate purchasing of insurance: Policies in some states are more affordable because they include fewer bells and whistles; consumers should be empowered to decide which benefits they need and what prices they are willing to pay;
- Reduce the number of mandated benefits insurers are required to cover: Empowering consumers to choose which benefits they need is effective only if insurers are able to fill those needs;
- Reallocate the majority of Medicaid spending into simple vouchers for low-income individuals to purchase their own insurance: An income-based sliding scale voucher program would eliminate much of the massive bureaucracy that is needed to implement today's complex and burdensome Medicaid system and produce considerable cost savings;
- Eliminate unnecessary scope-of-practice laws and allow non-physician health care professionals to practice to the extent of their education and training: Retail clinics have shown that increasing the provider pool safely increases competition and access to care and empowers the patient to decide from whom they receive their care; and
- Reform tort liability laws: Defensive medicine needlessly drives up medical costs and creates an adversarial relationship between doctors and patients.
Before deciding that a federalized health care system is best, I invite you to read Laffer's full report at www.LafferHealthCareReport.org. You just might decide that a health care system that restores freedom and responsibility to individuals is the wisest choice.
To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail Rob.Douglas@Comcast.net