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Story Archives: Healthcare, part deux
|Healthcare, part deux|
A couple of weeks ago on this page, I argued health care isn't a right and those in Congress working on health care reform shouldn't frame it that way. I still believe that, but I'm not someone who thinks nothing should be done to fix our broken health care system.
First, understand this is a column about health care cost, so try to stay with me as I relate an incident that happened to me about a week ago.
I hope the reason I'm starting this by writing about somebody rear-ending my truck in Ferriday will make sense to you by the time I'm through. With any luck, you will be patient enough with me to not flip ahead to see a picture of the deer your neighbor's grandbaby shot before I get to my point.
It happened on E.E. Wallace Boulevard while I was waiting for a car ahead of me to make a left turn. I glanced at my rearview mirror and noticed headlights approaching from behind much too quickly.
I thought "this car is going to hit me" and, yep, it did.
Fortunately, no one was initially hurt.
The guy told me, however, that it was his wife's car whose front he had caused to be smashed in and he was uncertain if bodily injury wouldn't happen to him when she saw it.
My truck was fine, so we exchanged insurance information after the police showed up and were on our way.
Maybe he has full coverage and his wife won't hurt him that badly. In any case, he isn't getting the remote control to the TV for a while.
All of this made me think about car insurance and why we purchase it in the first place, other than the fact that we have to by law. We buy car insurance for protection against catastrophic events, like teaching your teenage daughter to parallel park downtown.
What if your car insurance paid for constant upkeep of your vehicle, like an oil change or even filling up with gas? Can you imagine what it would do to the price of a lube job or gassing up at your local station if it did? If the government decided to get into the car upkeep business, antifreeze would cost more than the $50 aspirin the nurse gave you to relieve the pain from the last time you stupidly visited the medical clinic for an ingrown toenail instead of just soaking your feet in warm salt-water.
To fix something, like our health care system, you have to understand how it got broken in the first place. Like many things, you don't have to look much farther than government to see who broke something. Unfortunately, the health care bill working its way through Congress is poised to break things even more by creating a huge bureaucracy and, ultimately, cause rationing of health care goods and services.
We live in a country where most people don't pay directly for their health care and with good reason - they can't. It wasn't always this way. There was a time before third party providers, like Health Maintenance Organization (HMOs) and government programs, drove prices so high when people could actually directly pay for health care.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a physician, recounts this by-gone era in his book, "The Revolution".
In those days, people who couldn't afford to pay for health care were often treated for little or nothing, according to Paul.
"As a physician I never accepted Medicare or Medicaid from the government, and instead offered cut-rate or free services to those who could not afford care. Before these programs came into existence every physician understood that he or she had a responsibility toward the less fortunate, and free medical care for the poor was part of the norm," Paul writes.
With third party providers paying the bills, medical providers and pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to follow market principles, much less give to the poor.
The best way I have heard to help reintroduce the market to heath care is by enacting Medical Savings Accounts, or MSAs, into the system.
Many people, even those with HMOs, still fall through the cracks in today's system, simply because HMOs are always looking for ways to save money. Certain medical care and drugs aren't covered by HMOs and likewise with Medicare and Medicaid.
I'll let the American Medical Association, a strong proponent of MSAs, explain exactly what they are.
"It is a tax-deferred bank or savings account set up for individuals to pay for their health care expenses and medical insurance, and allow them to accumulate to pay for future medical expenses and more general use after retirement," the AMA wrote in a statement supporting the plan.
Money could be put into MSAs instead of HMOs and an employer could purchase a high-deductible insurance policy for catastrophic events and let employees use cash collected in a MSA for ordinary health expenses, like routine doctor visits, until the deductible of the insurance policy is met.
The idea is that people will shop around for health care again and prices would naturally come down. It's funny how the free market works that way. Medical insurance could once more return to protecting people from catastrophic events, much like car insurance. Those who think insurance companies will lower premiums by putting more people on the public dole are kidding themselves. You can't compete with the government, which can simply tax, print or borrow more money to cover cost.
More than a dozen states have MSA programs, but without the federal government creating a program, it won't make a dent in cost.
Try a federal MSA program with a little tort reform thrown in and you might have a health care bill worth in weight in paper, which can't be said for the 2,000-plus page monstrosity being shoved through Congress right now.
Whatever happens in Congress, I hope the guy who ran into me had some kind of health insurance when he broke the news to his wife or at least an extra remote control hidden somewhere.