Politics & Policy

The Private Sector Already Provides Health-Care ‘Exchanges’

There is no need for Obamacare to recreate something that is thriving in today's free market.

Pres. Barack Obama is twelve years late and $7 billion over budget when it comes to health-care “exchanges.” This keystone of Obamacare already exists in the private sector. There is no need for taxpayers to recreate something that is thriving in today’s free market.

Nonetheless, come 2014, Obamacare requires the creation of 50 American Health Benefit Exchanges, one per state. “The Exchanges will be government entities, with a role in setting minimum benefit standards,” Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster explained in an April 22 memo. Some 15.9 million Americans are projected to use the Exchanges to select federally approved individual medical coverage. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2019, these exchanges will have cost taxpayers $2 billion to establish, plus $5 billion in “Other Related Spending.”

This is a massive waste of time and money. Private enterprise already offers this service at no taxpayer cost.

The simple Internet address eHealth.com, for instance, will link any American to an incredibly useful website. This private company claims that its customers actually have secured coverage in just eleven minutes.

This website asks just five questions: zip code, gender, birth date, and whether one uses tobacco or is in college. If applicable, one may add the same information about a spouse and up to five children.

eHealth.com searches its database of 10,000 plans among 180 health insurers and lists those that operate within a designated zip code. These can be ranked by price, popularity, deductible, ratings, or just alphabetically.

Better yet, one can apply for coverage online or ask insurance-company representatives to call for further discussion.

What about people without Internet access? eHealth.com has about 50 licensed insurance agents to answer questions telephonically, 24/7, toll free. This company has insured 2 million people since 1998.

Another advantage of eHealth.com is that it is publicly traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange (symbol: EHTH). As such, its finances and operations are scrutinized by individual investors, institutional analysts, and journalists. In contrast, government agencies too often are black holes. Got a question? File a Freedom of Information lawsuit.

Unlike the exchanges, which would be state-level monopolies, eHealth.com also must contend with rivals, such as InsureMe.com and NetQuote.com. Competition pushes these companies to improve services and prices.

I used eHealth.com in 2007 to compare Atlantis, Oxford, and several other carriers. A few hours after submitting my contact information via eHealth.com, one company’s representative phoned to discuss my options. We soon met at a local bar. Over microbrews, we reviewed several plans, chose one, and agreed that optional prescription-drug coverage made sense. I signed the papers and — voila! — purchased brand-new health insurance that has served me nicely.

Throughout this process, eHealth.com cost me nothing. My satisfying experience predated the exchanges, Obamacare, and even the Obama presidency.

eHealth.com and similar websites may need to expand in order to accommodate the additional demand from those whom Obamacare would cover. New competitors likely would arrive to serve this audience. The best way to do this — which Congress refused to recognize — is to give uninsured, needy people “health stamps” that they would redeem for, say, $2,500 worth of insurance that suits their needs and circumstances.

So, what does Obama bring to this party? Nothing — other than a massive budget, suffocating new rules, and a brand-new cadre of government workers who will be paid salaries, benefits, and long-term pension costs from the already-fatigued U.S. Treasury.

One wonders how this country survives without Washington running an American Travel Exchange. Somehow, we get by with Priceline.com, Expedia.com, and kayak.com. Until Uncle Sam launches an American Book and Music Exchange, Americans must endure Amazon.com. So, hang on until federal help arrives.

Rather than encourage, and sometimes help, the uninsured buy coverage via eHealth.com and its competitors, Obamacare mandates 50 copies of this fully functioning private infrastructure, staffs them with government employees, slathers them with stultifying new regulations, and finances them with other people’s confiscated money.

Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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