Steering toward a government health care off-ramp

Steering toward a government health care off-ramp
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My friend David was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010. The next time the union contract was up, his health insurance premiums, deductibles and copays shot up so much that he and his wife elected to go with Medicare and a supplement, even though he was eligible for the union-negotiated company benefits.

He considered himself lucky, he told me. One of his neighbors, a widow, couldn’t afford insurance on the ACA marketplace, and went without until she became eligible for Medicare herself. Another neighbor, a small business owner, complied with the ACA’s mandate to purchase coverage, but because of the astronomical deductible, he never used his insurance.

These aren’t atypical stories. Millions of Americans have been priced out of insurance and have been forced to go without.

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The ACA has failed to meet many of its stated goals and in fact has exacerbated problems that were prevalent before the law was passed. According to the Republican Study Committee’s (RSC) recently released plan, “The ACA has limited choice for many, forced Americans into unaffordable plans, and provided narrow networks, which prevent patients from accessing the doctors and hospitals they need.”

There’s a better approach than doubling down on government intervention. Many plans, including the RSC’s new one, can provide our rolling wreck of a health care system with a much-needed off-ramp from the Washington-centric approach.

Throughout the country, physicians, patient advocacy groups and employers have come together to express how they feel health care should be delivered. One of the largest bi-partisan national advocacy platforms, called Free2Care (representing 21-member organizations, 2.3 million individuals, and 37,000 physicians) has promoted a plan to reduce costs and waste in American medicine.

Yet another plan sponsored by the Job Creators Network Foundation and physician groups has echoed many points and has “developed a framework for healthcare reform from those inputs that will repair, restore and improve the patient-doctor relationship.”

It is not surprising to see this grassroots effort surge to take back from politicians something as personal as health care and our relationship with medical professionals. Employers, patients, and physicians have been struggling under the weight of the increasing costs and administrative burden of the ACA, and they are coming together like never before to offer up meaningful solutions. According to the list of line-item offset options by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, some of the recommendations made could reduce our nation’s healthcare spending by hundreds of billions of dollars in the first year alone, while still protecting patients with chronic illnesses.

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A common starting point for most of the plans to revive our health care system has been price transparency. According to a former senior White House health care advisor, “greater transparency in health care pricing will help employers to offer better payment structures for their employees and give employees and other consumers more tools to get better value in health spending.” Patient Rights Advocate agrees, and has provided a list of points that dispel the claims made by insurers and hospitals that greater transparency would cause costs to go up, not down. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the Surgery Center of Oklahoma that posts bundled pricing on its website.

For over a century, government has intervened in the U.S. healthcare system — to its detriment. Consequently, we have a Frankenstein monster of a system, as each presidential administration and each Congress have attempted to put their fingerprints on it. This chronic intervention has left us with more unintended consequences than solutions it was trying to employ.

Even while Medicare-for-All schemes and proposals to strengthen the ACA continue to be the litmus test for Democratic candidates, the Americans who are impacted the most are looking for an off-ramp on the road leading to single payer. 

It’s more important now than ever to remember that what truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

David Balat is the Director of the Right on Healthcare initiative with Texas Public Policy Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @DavidBalatHC.