Keep the change

Philip Christofanelli | Staff Columnist

As the nation considers much-needed health-care reform, we must seek to cure the disease of our health-care system and avoid treating its symptoms. Most would agree that the main problem with health care in America is the exorbitant costs involved. The free market has consistently been proven to be the most efficient vehicle for providing consumers with desired goods at the lowest price. Many now claim that in health care, the free market has failed in this regard. It is important to recognize, however, that a free market in health care has not existed for some time, and for this reason, we continue to face costs which spiral out control.

In the United States, we currently operate under a managed-care system, where government intrusion has touched nearly all aspects of medicine. One of the most devastating interventions has been in the insurance industry. For some time now, large insurance companies have used the government to push through regulations and subsidies that isolate their industry from the competition necessary to lower costs. Through code incentives that exempt employer-provided benefits from taxation, the insurance giants have managed to preserve the employer-based insurance system and to prevent the possibility of individualized insurance policies, tailored to the needs of the buyer.

Also, through various regulations, the government has restricted the supply of health care to the populace. The government licensing system limits the number of medical schools, medical students, hospitals and doctors available for use in the economy and consequently drives up the price. This fact is well known by the cartel that is the American Medical Association, which has been lobbying for trade protections since its inception in 1847.

There are solutions to these problems, but they do not involve increasing government involvement, for typically, when one is in a ditch, it is time to stop digging. A good start would be eliminating the employer-benefit exemption with a simultaneous revenue-neutral decrease in income taxes. This act would return insurance to its original intention, a backup plan for emergencies. Insurance was never intended to be used for everyday doctor visits, but rather for major, unexpected medical crises. Accompanying this change would be the institution of tax-free medical savings accounts where individuals could pay for everyday medical expenses out of pocket. Introducing this sort of system would effectively lower the cost of health care, because insurance companies and doctors would have to compete for customers instead of charging arbitrary figures to a price-insensitive population.

Another price-lowering measure would be to legalize nurse practitioners. Under our current system, it is illegal for nurses to perform certain medical services that they are completely capable of providing. In an effort to protect their trade, doctors have successfully lobbied for these restrictions and kept the prices of these medical services unnecessarily high. A strong nurse practitioner market would do wonders for providing health care for those less able to afford doctors.

These suggestions are just a few of the possibilities when it comes to getting government out of health care and making care more affordable for all income classes. Unfortunately, the only suggestions from the Obama administration involve more government, more money funneled to insurance agencies, more regulation of the doctor-patient relationship, more mandates, more government committees, more false competition and more interference with the natural allocation of goods and services that the free market provides. Obama’s plan is not change at all, but more of the same nonsense that has infected our health-care system for nearly a century. If this is all Obama has to offer, he can keep the change.

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