We need a new attitude toward health insurance

The greatest thing that could come out of the current debate over ObamaCare is a seismic shift in the way Americans think of health insurance.

There was a time when insurance was the rainy day fund one had in case of a serious illness or injury. It was there for emergencies to ensure you would be covered when real catastrophe hit.

At some point over the past 45 years, as government has taken on an increasingly intrusive role in the healthcare business, Americans have let go of this understanding. They have forgotten that insurance isn't there to help pay for the annual eye exam or even a routine checkup when your child has the sniffles.

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I have three children, and I do not have employer-sponsored health insurance. We buy our plan in the private marketplace. It’s a high-deductible plan, or “catastrophic coverage.” It requires I make decisions about the doctors we see and when we see them. It’s forced me to ask questions: What is a nasopharyngeal exam? And why didn’t you mention it would cost $400? And I’ll admit it isn’t perfect, largely because the healthcare market is so distorted and pricing is often not rational.

A fellow panelist with me on Forbes on Fox recently said Americans don’t have the luxury to shop for healthcare the way they shop for a TV. He told me that he guarantees that if one of my children became seriously ill, I wouldn’t be shopping for a better “deal.” And he’s right. I’d be shopping for the best doctor and the best care.

But this exemplifies the problem.

Catastrophic coverage is exactly when you need insurance. It’s for when you lack sufficient funds or sufficient time to shop around for the best price. Even so, in a real market, when disaster arises, the prices will be rational and reasonable because of all the myriad choices individuals are making everyday about routine services and treatments when they do have time. And if we reserve insurance for the true disasters in life, rather than the mundane visits, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about government-funded birth control.

In the end, the only way to really change the direction of the healthcare system in America is to provide consumers with control and ownership over their healthcare dollars so they can make decisions that make the most sense for themselves and their families. (Yes, sometimes we are going to have to pay for things ourselves.) 

And that can’t happen through government — only through a private marketplace.

Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.