Thursday, May 7, 2009

Real universal health care

Recently, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wrote an article for Newsweek detailing how we can have a universal health care initiative in America that is not run by the government. I'm going to list some of the highlights, including his six-point plan for implementing such a system. You can read the full article here:

Governor Romney starts by listing the ideals of a universal system, one that would "cost less, have the highest quality, and see that it extends to all Americans--even when they lose their jobs or when they're sick." He points out that free markets have a much better history of reducing costs and improving quality and productivity in any enterprise than governments do. He points to the United States Postal Service versus UPS and FedEx as a prime example, and says "If you liked the HMOs of the '80s, you'd love government-run health care".

He then outlines his plan for a market-driven universal health care initiative, drawing on the plan he developed as governor as a template:

1. Get everyone insured. Give tax credits, vouchers, or coinsurance to low income households. For those who can afford it, require them to either buy insurance or pay for their own care; if they do neither, then they get no tax credit, or they lose a deduction. Help pay for it by redirecting the tens of billions that now go to pay for free care at hospitals. "No more 'free riders'."

2. Make health insurance affordable and portable. Tax credits for consumers who purchase their own insurance, plus insuring everyone, will reduce costs significantly. This would also help Americans who change or lose jobs keep their insurance.

3. Give people an incentive to care how expensive and how good their health-care treatment will be. In France and Switzerland, he points out, the insured pay a given percent of the entire bill, up to a certain amount. This type of coinsurance keeps the insured's eye on costs, unlike with deductibles.

4. Provide citizens with information about the cost and quality of providers and the effectiveness of alternative treatments. "This transparency, when it's combined with a meaningful personal financial incentive, will help health care work more like a consumer market."

5. Reform Medicare and Medicaid, likewise applying market principles to lower cost and improve patient care.

6. Center reforms at the state level. "Open the door to state plans designed to meet the various needs of their citizens. Before imposing a one-size-fits-all federal program, let the states serve as 'the laboratories of democracy.'"

I'm a free market advocate. I believe in capitalism and the power of the market to drive down prices and raise quality of service. Haven't we seen it in practically every business venture? Don't the low-cost, high-service companies tend to do better than high-cost, low-quality ones? Why shouldn't we give insurance companies the incentive to operate the same way? It would mean fewer taxes for everyone, an actual tax credit for people who make less, and most importantly, quality coverage for everyone.

An (almost) unintended benefit of market-driven health care would be the benefit to the economy. Can anyone deny that the more businesses arise, the healthier the economy will be? If the health insurance industry booms under such a plan, as it inevitably would, then not only would more people have insurance, but more people would have jobs.

Democrats in recent months have tried to brand the Republican Party as the party of no; more specifcally, as the party of no ideas. The problem with that, as I've said before, is the irony behind it all. As Governor Romney points out, "Republicans have introduced bills in Washington that promote these and other consumer-driven policies. In every one, the patient and doctor guide care, not the government--and that makes all the difference." The irony is, every time a Republican presents an idea to Congress, it is either derided, dismissed, or just plain ignored. I'm not a Republican, but I know they have ideas. This is definitely one of their better ones; and we would all do well to study it more thoroughly before we accept the conventional wisdom that government-run care is the only option.

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