With so many questions being asked in congress about the country’s healthcare system, it’s easy to be confused as to where to turn. In a world where many will insist that black is white, how do we tackle the big issues that surround healthcare?
Allowing Us to Control Our Healthcare Spending
The question on how to pay for and provide healthcare is a complicated one, and there are few easy answers. But, having been in the health insurance business for over 30 years, one thing is quite apparent – as government control has increased, prices have also increased and availability has dramatically declined.
One of the core problems is that we are being denied the opportunity to choose how we spend our healthcare dollars – which makes little to no sense. We are required to purchase only specifically designed government-approved plans, and are not even allowed to opt out of things we may not need, such as maternity coverage. The result is that a whole lot of people are being required to purchase something that is more expensive and is NOT what they would choose, if they had a choice.
Under a free market model, consumers would be able to select the doctor, location, price plan and treatment that benefits them most as an individual. If they wanted a plan that would allow them to see certain experts, or naturopaths or alternative practitioners, those plans would be legal and available. If someone was only worried about catastrophic care, they could choose a plan with a higher deductible and less coverage for basic doctor visits, and they could probably dramatically lower their costs.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and a free market would force re-thinks within the healthcare industry and encourage out-of-the-box thinking – as it always does. All one has to do is look at how the costs of procedures that are not typically covered by insurance – such as lasik eye surgery – have actually gone down, while the cost of most other medical care has simultaneously skyrocketed.
In industries where competition is high, innovation is always present. Every company is searching for ways to lower costs, improve the product, and offer better service to their clients. But in a highly regulated industry, the advantage goes not to the innovators, but to those who know how to work the system.
In today’s world, providing medical services or products is a very complicated business – one that typically requires an army of lawyers and lobbyists, who navigate the laws and regulations, make friends with the lawmakers – and who also collude to create health plans that keep money flowing their way.
The more we can create a free-market system where businesses and healthcare providers actually compete for our business, the better healthcare system we will have.
Increasing Price Transparency
We do not purchase a home without a survey, or a car without a test drive, so why should healthcare be any different? But today, it is virtually impossible to get a price list from a hospital or doctor’s office. That’s right – the prices are usually hidden.
A free market would result in complete transparency from doctors and hospitals regarding their performance and pricing, allowing potential patients to make better decisions about how they spend their own money.
Making Health Savings Accounts Available to All
Health savings accounts (HSAs) allow people to save for future medical expenses, in a tax-favored way. These accounts are currently only available to people who have certain HSA-qualified health insurance plans – but they should be made available to anyone.
By encouraging people to save their own money that they will eventually likely spend on medical care, HSAs help people protect themselves from the financial risk of a major medical event, and they encourage the consumer to be involved in the healthcare purchasing decision.
When someone (the hospital) spends someone else’s money (the insurance company’s), on someone else (the patient), they care little about quality or price. But when an individual (the patient) spends their own money on their own care, both price and quality matter much more.
We are a wealthy and compassionate country, and I believe we can build a healthcare system that continues to provide better care to more people at a lower cost than ever. The only way to do that is to allow companies to really compete for our business, and to give consumers the right to make their own decisions about the healthcare they purchase.
Wiley Long is the president of ColoHealth, and has been in the health insurance industry since 1987. He received his master’s degree in nutrition and exercise science at Colorado State University, and is passionate about individual healthcare freedom. Read more about Wiley on his Bio page.