Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rational Health Care Reform

The health care debate continued to rage last week in Colorado when a sub-committee in the state house voted on a bill to move to a state-wide single-payer system. This is surprising in a traditionally libertarian place like Colorado, though it is understandable as the state turns more Democratic and voters continue to lose faith with the current system and the lack of a viable alternative. Vincent Carroll of the Denver Post's Editorial Board responded with a typical ideologically conservative commentary that was long of criticism and scare tactics, yet predictably short on alternative proposals. Though I was disappointed to see him immediately resort to the "red flag, talking-point" of rationing, I was pleased to see his concession that the current system already rations care based on ability to pay into the private system. Reform critics claim that single-payer would lead to rationing and prevent people from seeing their own doctors, as well as turn medical decisions over to a bureaucrat. However, that is already true. My employer-based coverage cost me my personal physician, and specialist care is limited. Decision are not simply left up to me and my physician; they are vetted through the administration of the insurance company. Conservative critics who cite those as effects of single-payer are fools. That situation is the essence of the private system as it exists. For, far worse than a cost-cutting bureaucrat (whose bosses are still responsible to voters) focused on budgets, is a cost-cutting executive focused on profits. Insurance companies are in the business of collecting premiums and denying claims.

As Colorado attempts a move to single-payer, I am hoping they will take a more pragmatic approach and blend the public-private system as many countries do, and as we currently do for nine million federal employees. Thus, I hope Mr. Carroll will consider researching and writing about options that would do this, and alleviate the need for states to push for a single-payer system. A good place to start is the Healthy Americans Act, also known as the Wyden-Bennett plan. It is an adaptation and extension of the logical move of extending FEHBP (Federal Employees Plan) to all Americans. In FEHBP, there are more than 250 providers that competitively bid to cover federal employees. Employees are given the choice to purchase as much or as little coverage as they need, but all are guaranteed some basic coverage. Obviously, large pools lower cost, and if a pool of nine million employees works, then a pool of 300 million would work even better. An extension of FEHBP to all Americans is the best and most logical reform, the the HAA is a good second-best.

As Mr. Carroll notes, reform is necessary, and it will come. As the private sector eliminates more people from coverage, the masses will eventually take what they can get. And having lived under it for five years, I can say with all honesty that national health care is far better than being un-insured in this county. Thus, I urge the Denver Post to research and write extensively about plans, such as the HAA or the FEHBP, that blend public and private. I have contacted my congressional candidates and representatives about this, and I hope more people will as they become aware of it. Otherwise, we will be stuck with a system that the masses begrudgingly accept.

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