Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pipes on Insurance Mandates

The December 17, 2007 edition of the Rocky Mountain News printed the following opinion piece by Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute, discussing the folly of insurance mandates:
Remove barriers to affordable health insurance
Sally C. Pipes

Ever wonder why health insurance costs so much in Colorado? Well, maybe it has something to do with the fact that every insurance policy in the state must cover all kinds of services — including professional counseling — deemed unnecessary by many.

In fact, Colorado has 37 of these mandates. Should a resident want to buy a policy that doesn’t cover, say, chiropractor visits, sorry — the government has decided that everyone must have that coverage.

Recently, enthusiasm for universal health-care coverage has swept the nation, with governors in Massachusetts and California leading the way. Maine and Vermont are currently revising their own systems of expanded health-care coverage, and at least eight other states are pursuing similar reforms.

Certainly, the approximately 47 million uninsured in America is a significant problem, but the proposals under consideration do little to address the primary reason for the lack of coverage — very expensive insurance.

And why are those costs spiraling upward, seemingly without limit? One major reason is government meddling in the market for health insurance, particularly through the imposition of restrictive mandates and regulations.

The average state has 36 mandates on an individual health insurance policy. And with each mandate, the cost to the consumer goes up. These mandates often stand in the way of making health insurance more affordable in the first place.

Just as options on a new automobile add to the total cost of the car, so too do insurance mandates.

If affordability and accessibility are the problems behind the number of uninsured, then why haven’t state governments removed the mandates for those who want to buy a basic policy? It’s not just the government’s desire to micromanage — it’s interest-group politics.

Acupuncturists, for example, certainly provide an important pain-relief service to many individuals. But is it really necessary for everyone to have acupuncture coverage whether they want it or not? It would make far more sense to give individuals the freedom to purchase policies that suit their specific needs.

The current system guarantees that everyone pays the highest possible price.

We are covered for things we don’t use. Or if we do take advantage of these mandated benefits, we don’t realize the full cost of the benefit because someone else pays.

But we all indirectly absorb those costs thanks to higher premiums.

The conversation about health-care reform is long overdue, but unfortunately for most consumers, it’s headed in the wrong direction.

Without addressing the high costs of health care, efforts to achieve universal coverage by legislative fiat will fail. Just look at automobile insurance. Even though it is mandatory in all but three states, one in seven drivers on our roads remains uninsured. There’s a better way to expand health-are coverage — through greater purchasing freedom and fewer regulations.

Let’s hope Colorado learns from the heavy-handed approaches of other states and opts for a more effective approach — like ending the silly requirement that all insurance policies cover things like marriage therapy, which most people will never need.

Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. She is a resident of San Francisco.