Guest Column (11/19/09)

Health care reform should be based on free market principles

Nov. 19, 2009

By Patricia Crocker

Of late, America’s health care debate is clouded with strong emotion and often short on facts and evidence. Meaningful reform will occur only in the presence of civil deliberation based on facts and evidence.

For starters, any legislation should be consistent with our Constitution. Health care is not a human right under our Constitution. Nevertheless, every citizen of this country has the right to pursue health care treatment and insurance coverage based on innovative and patient-centered free market principles.

Proponents of government controlled health care claim that our current health care system is broken and needs an overhaul because we have a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than other Western countries, according to a 2008 report from the CATO Institute, a non-profit public policy research foundation.

However, when corrected for homicide and accident rates, the United States actually rises to the top of the list for life expectancy. Also, high risk pregnancies have a much greater chance of being brought to term using the latest technologies. However, many of these infants die shortly after birth — raising the infant mortality rate.

Evidence shows that the United States outperforms other countries in survival rates for illnesses such as cancer, pneumonia, heart disease and AIDS.

Medicare and Medicaid are held up as successful government-run programs, yet their costs are wildly out of control with massive unfunded liabilities and fraud, waste and abuse. How can even more people realistically be added to these programs without bankrupting them?

Polls show that 80 percent of people are happy with their present health care insurance. This personal view obscures the reality that costs for the system overall will soon approach an unacceptable 18 percent of GDP unless changes are made.

So, back to the question, how can we insure the uninsured and bring our health care system to a level of excellence Americans expect? The answer is not to overhaul the system by setting up a government takeover of health care but to make gradual changes based on past experiences.

Four states — Massachusetts, Hawaii, Tennessee and Maine — have enacted government-controlled programs that are now failing. These programs have common threads. First, they all contain a high level of government control. Second, the costs of every program have exceeded projections. Lastly, none of these states have enacted tort reform, or eliminated fraud, waste and abuse, major drivers of health care costs.

In contrast, successful experience can be found in the private sector. Since 2005, Safeway Inc. has kept health care costs flat while maintaining high employee satisfaction, while most American companies have experienced a 38 percent increase. CEO Steven Burd told The Wall Street Journal that Safeway has “borrowed from the well-tested automobile insurance model” that recognizes the critical role of personal responsibility. Burd believes that savings of this scale could happen in the national system.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, provides his employees with high deductible health insurance paired with health savings accounts that allow money to accrue if not used. He has suggested that other reforms far short of a government takeover could make health care insurance affordable for all.

To prevent frivolous lawsuits that raise the cost of health care services, tort reform is essential. Prices should be transparent so that consumers understand their undistorted treatment cost. Insurance companies should be allowed to compete over state lines to drive down the cost of premiums and allow individuals to pick plans based on their own risks. Lastly, progressive tax credits could be used for those unable to afford paying insurance premiums.

All these changes would drastically reduce the cost of health care and insurance policies and allow people — not the government — to be in charge of their health care.

The evidence is compelling. Our country should not support a government takeover of the health care system. Health care should remain under the control of the individual and health care providers. All Americans should contact their representatives and let them know that every citizen has the right to pursue health care coverage based on innovative and patient-centered free market principles.


Patricia Crocker lives in Essex Junction.