Politics & Policy

Fixing Health Care Without Destroying It

Can it be done? Why not?

With the Democratic party back in control of both houses of Congress, left-leaning politicians are moving quickly to resurrect the issue of nationalized health care. The current health-care system undoubtedly has its shortcomings, but Democrats seem intent on using a shotgun strategy to solve a mosquito problem. Republicans, meanwhile, cringe at the prospect of an expensive, bloated federal health-care program that likely would provide inferior services while undermining the ability of free markets to offer innovative answers to most health-care issues.

Can middle-ground solutions be reached — perhaps ones that provide less-expensive health care for Americans while not lessening the quality of that care? I think so. But let’s first determine what must not be part of any solution.

Out-of-control litigation expenses, government attacks on the drug industry, and additional taxation — all of which would partner with nationalized health-care as envisioned by many members of the Left — would burden the system rather than improve it. In short, true nationalized health care would be a disaster.

But maybe there’s a half-way solution, whereby the government could intervene in the health-care market in appropriate ways while leaving the rest to the free market. My thinking — typically full-bore free market — turned in this direction about a year ago, when I was diagnosed with skin cancer.

At the time, my dermatologist recommended that I have my skin cancers removed surgically. My health-care provider, meanwhile, required that I have the procedure done in an accredited hospital. Good enough, and the surgery went as scheduled. Then, a few weeks later, I received the bill for hospital services — about $12,000 for a three-hour stay. Ouch! However, since I was insured by an influential company which negotiated that rate, the hospital was willing to accept $2,000 as full payment.

And this got me thinking . . .

An uninsured patient in my situation would have had to pay the entire $12,000, avoid the procedure altogether due to these substantial costs, or just stick the hospital with the bill. So ask yourself this: Is the U.S. government capable of negotiating with hospitals on behalf of citizens without traditional health insurance?

My answer might surprise you.

Even if participants in such a national program had to pay a nominal fee, the benefit of receiving health care at substantially lower rates (as negotiated by the government) would easily offset that upfront fee. And since hospitals and other providers willingly accept lower fees from insurance companies, they should not object to accepting equivalent payments from the U.S. government acting in a similar capacity.

While such a modified insurance program would not provide for the payment of the discounted bills, it could substantially reduce the charges uninsured patients incur when receiving expensive health-care services (somewhat like old major-medical coverage used to do). Such a program also could increase the ability of the uninsured to receive necessary health-care that they might otherwise have avoided because of high costs.

The bottom line is that both Democrats and Republicans want less-expensive health care for all Americans. But getting there requires a variety of solutions that can avoid undermining the positive attributes of the current free-market system. A program that substantially lowers the cost of health-care procedures is one step in that direction.

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