July 19, 2007

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Publisher's Note: Health care tune-up
By Jody Reese

This country’s health care market has created one of the most inefficient medical systems in the Western world.

Our system is expensive, eating up 15 percent of our country’s income. It leaves 16 percent of people without steady medical care. We die earlier and get seriously sick more than any other Western country. This disaster of a system has even pushed some of the largest American companies to support a government-run health care system.

If there was ever a definition of a system failure, that’s definitely it.

Setting aside that 16 percent of Americans (19 percent or so of New Hampshire adults) who go without insurance, the cost of providing health care has become a burden for the business community. Every year, rates go up faster than inflation. This has made American companies less able to compete against foreign companies, encouraging them to move more jobs overseas.

Emergency health care is not a commodity that one can forgo if the price is too high. That means that regardless of cost, people will still use the health care services. Sometimes, they use them without insurance and rack up huge bills that others pay for through higher costs passed on to insurance companies or to the government. Other times people go deeply into debt.

We have created a semi-free market system that basically moves the entire cost of health care to the 60 percent of people who have private insurance. It’s like a tax on the insured.

There are no easy solutions to this mess. One option would be to make health care universal, sort of like it is for many of our veterans who use the Veterans Administration hospital system. Another would be for the government to control the cost of health care, like it does with cable, water, telephone and electric. Still another would be for people to pay for health care as they go — with insurance only being used for life-threatening medical emergencies or prolonged serious illnesses.

The last option seems the most realistic and I think offers the most promise.

We would treat our bodies like we do our cars. With our cars, we pay for the oil changes, new tires and other maintenance. In case of a collision, we use our insurance — the same could be true for health care. As it is now, our health care insurance pays for our maintenance and our collisions.

If we paid for our own maintenance, there might be some incentive for companies to offer low-cost health care maintenance in Wal-Marts and at kiosks in the mall. That mixed with some price controls on certain life-sustaining drugs and procedures and some government-run clinics for the very poor might prove to be a powerful combination to make health care affordable and efficient.

If we are to make our system more efficient and affordable, then we should throw out the political dogma and create a system that works.