The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Conservative ideas for health care

At one particularly notable point during President Obama's much-ballyhooed speech on health care last Wednesday, he said, "If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen."

At this point, a few Republican congressional members were quick to hold up in the air the plans they had been pushing for quite some time now with little serious acknowledgment from the Obama administration.

As anyone who has read this column in the past can attest, my faith in the current Washington GOP is at a near abysmal level. On many serious issues they have proven incapable and unwilling to provide conservative alternatives to the Democrats. I must admit, however, that they have positively surprised me when it comes to health care.

Although more could certainly be done, many Republicans have formulated some substantive proposals that are unfortunately getting little coverage from the mainstream media.

Both sides of the aisle agree: Our health system needs to be altered. The disagreement, of course, lies in how and to what extent the desired ends should be achieved. As liberals love to say, health care accounts for $2.4 trillion of our country's

spending each year (or better represented as 17 percent of the GDP).

Of this robust amount, more than half of it comes from the government. To conservatives such as myself, the cure to what ails us is not to simply add another $1.5 trillion plus to health care's bottom line. The current spending tag could be enough if we learn to manage and use our resources in an effective way.

The first step to confronting health care is to directly address the pervasive fraud that runs rampant through our existing system. It has been estimated and corroborated by various watchdog entities that health care fraud accounts for around 10 percent of our health care spending (well more than $200 billion dollars a year).

More disheartening is Medicare's track record, which as a government-run program loses $40 billion a year to fraudulent-related causes. Imagine what we could do with an extra $200 billion a year to help the uninsured.

The answer to reducing fraud: why, technology, my friend. Doctors and other health care professionals have long been advocating increased electronic documentation to replace the outdated and fraud-prone paper-based system.

Admittedly, fraud is simply the window dressing around any comprehensive reform proposal. The meat and potatoes of a conservative approach come into play by addressing the current taxation system we have for health insurance plans.

As it sits currently, employer-organized health insurance enjoys unlimited tax relief while individual health insurance plans receive only a picayune amount of such treatment (if any). This creates very perverse incentives, which manifest themselves in high-earning employees at large corporations receiving extravagant coverage plans while lower-income Americans without employer-based coverage go uninsured.

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This present structure could be altered by abolishing the tax shelter for employer-based plans and redistributing that money to people, in the form of tax credits and even health debit cards in the case of low-income Americans. In fact, this very scheme has been put forth in the Patients Choice Act of 2009, which several GOP congressmen wrote.

Despite Obama pillorying John McCain for advocating such a plan during the election, in recent months Democrats such as Max Baucus and even Hillary Clinton have supported the idea of eliminating such tax shields. It just started getting silly when the liberal USA Today editors proved somewhat receptive to the Republican plan, going so far as to label it "deceptively radical."

The solution can extend beyond some simple tax credits, though, and launch into the realm of revolutionizing benefit packages. Health care providers formulate a powerful lobby, and this can be most acutely witnessed by their sway in state


In such forums, they exert their influence by compelling the legislatures to introduce ever-tighter regulations on insurance companies that result in such companies only being able to offer "Cadillac" benefit packages. That is to say, if people of lower means want to purchase a health insurance plan that provides coverage in a few specific areas, they are unable to do so.

Instead, they face what the Wall Street Journal terms "an all-or-nothing" choice between going uninsured and paying the freight for very expensive, overly comprehensive benefit packages. Allowing for more individual choice in what benefits one wants to receive will reduce the cost of plans and increase coverage dramatically. Evidence of similar endeavors can be seen both in Oregon's prioritized Medicaid list and Florida's recent attempts to cull the influence of the health lobby within its state.

Finally, and most importantly, we severely need to address the intersection of health care and our justice system. Bred from the warmth of our monstrously litigious society is a near-maniacal legal assault on health care.

Physicians have become increasingly concerned with malpractice suits and rising malpractice insurance, which has led to the proliferating tendency of practicing defensive medicine. This leads to one of the main evils Obama himself has warned of: wasteful treatments that in turn lead to more money being spent than is necessary.

This problem has spilled over into the prescription drug world and led to climbing drug prices as well if one takes the time to read the legal briefs of a recent Supreme Court case, Wyeth v. Levine.

Above I have merely tried to provide a smorgasbord of conservative, free-market-based options that do not involve the formation of a public option. As the health care debate rages on, just remember that there are a plethora of ideas and possibilities that can lead to even more salubrious results for Americans.

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