Free-market health care reform is within reach
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken public attention away from the critical need for health-care reform. After years of incredible scientific advancement and inadequate attention to cost efficiency, America must now determine how to preserve health care quality, availability, and choice. It is imperative we address this problem not just for ourselves, but for succeeding generations as well.
The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted chaos on all levels of society. In health care, it has been a particular menace. Rushing in with an all-encompassing Medicare for All plan, or its stepping stone, the so-called public option, as a way to control costs invites more than trouble. This is socialized medicine. Quality, availability, and choice will disappear faster than a Soviet dissident.
History has shown that socialists exploit chaos as a means to their ends. But make no mistake: socialists are not saviors. Their main goal is a government takeover of health care. If that happens, the United States will lose its edge developing life-saving treatments and other medical miracles. This is not the time to take that risk.
The problems in the U.S. health care system today are numerous. Americans who don't have employer-provided health insurance miss out on the tax advantages afforded to workers with such plans. Medicaid is inefficient and shoddy. Medicare has escalating costs that will be impossible to cover over time. Consumers have little information on how much health care services actually cost because the bills are negotiated by third parties, unbeknownst to the consumer until after the fact.
Innovative minds offer many free-market ideas to address these problems, some of which already enjoy great success in the marketplace, such as Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and new expansions of both.
Recently, the respective secretaries of the Treasury, the Labor Department, and Health and Human Services, at the direction of President Trump, authorized modification of two types of insurance plans that could get us back to free-market health care. Short Term Limited Duration Insurance (STLDI) and Health Status Insurance (HSI) are affordable plans, essentially, for healthy people.
The plans provide continuous medical coverage and assurance of care for chronic conditions without the crippling premium increases we currently see on the Obamacare exchanges, which have prompted a number of people to forgo health coverage altogether.
STLDI plans have been available since 1974 and have mainly served people who would be without health insurance for a short period. Premiums are often 50 to 80 percent lower than Obamacare plans. Moreover, the plans can be customized more or less to suit the needs of the policyholder. Why pay for a service you know you'll never need, as Obamacare plans force you to do? Additionally, the application process is simple. Plans can be purchased in a matter of minutes.
STLDI plans are not for the very sick. There are better ways to cover that small slice of the population, such as high-risk pools, which some states are doing. STLDI doesn't pay for routine visits to a doctor, or prescription drugs, maternity care, mental health treatment, or care for substance abuse disorders. However, there are many options on the market like direct primary care that are so affordable that people can pay for these services out of pocket for less than $100 per month.
It is also possible that STLDI cannot be renewed after a period of time, depending on state rules. That is where HSI comes in. An HSI, purchased along with a STLDI, guarantees to pay for the low probability of developing expensive, chronic illnesses in years to come, without a significant rise in premiums for either policy. With STLDI and HSI, one can be covered for at least four years. Even better, the plans are portable, meaning one can change jobs with no lapse in health-care coverage. HSI, which is renewable every three years, can serve as a backup plan in case one is in between jobs.
The solution to America's health care problems is more freedom, not more government rules and regulations. Congress needs to recognize this and support STLDI and HSI plans. Americans don't need a government takeover of health care; they need the ability to choose the health care plan that best fits their needs and circumstances.
Robert Hamilton, M.D. (email@example.com) is a retired general and vascular surgeon and policy adviser to The Heartland Institute.
Image: US Navy.