Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Truth About Health Care Costs

The January 10, 2008 edition of Investor's Business Daily has the following excellent analysis of why health care costs so much in the US. The short answer -- government interference in the free market:
The Truth About Health Costs
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, January 10, 2008

Health Care Reform: Democrats claim high medical costs are a "failure of the free market," and they demand a government takeover. But a new study says government's to blame.

Public health programs account for almost half of the $2 trillion spent on U.S. health care, a Hoover Institution report says. An astonishing 80% or more of all medical-care pricing is based on government reimbursement rates set by Medicare.

As for private costs, they would be lower if government didn't interfere in the market. Regulations imposed on the industry cost more than $330 billion a year, Hoover says.

Perverse tax policies have created a third-party payer system. Patients no longer have first-dollar responsibility for medical bills thanks to employer insurance.

Someone else is paying, so inflation goes unchecked and unabated.

"Patients have no idea what their doctor visits, surgeries, diagnostic studies or other medical services — whether urgent or elective — will cost until the bill comes weeks later," said Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a senior Hoover fellow and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical School.

Even then, they seldom flyspeck the bill. Why bother, when they're responsible for just 10% to 20% of it?

Meanwhile, demand climbs higher and higher, and insurance premiums along with it, taking a bigger bite out of employer paychecks and putting health care completely out of reach for a growing number of Americans.

So if Uncle Sam made health care so unaffordable, why do so many voters like Democrats' plans to expand government control of health care? Because they've bought into the myth that the private sector has failed and begs for government rescue.

Democrats' solution to this failed government-heavy system is more government in the form of mandatory health coverage. Public plans offered by Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama all boast of "using government to lower costs and ensure affordability for all."

But if you think health care is expensive now, just wait until government makes it "free."

Hillary calls for expanding coverage through public health plans like Medicare or the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program. Yet Medicare already costs more per capita than any other industrial nation's public medical program.

The way to control costs isn't to expand a health care bureaucracy that already is divorcing patients from market-price decisions. The answer is letting them choose between health care and money.

Most of the Republican plans would help patients make that choice by expanding health savings accounts with high-deductible insurance plans. HSAs are tax-deferred accounts that patients set up to pay for routine medical care and to save for future unexpected medical expenses.

The key, however, is making the accounts attractive enough to shift incentives from the current employer-based system of insurance to the individual market.

Right now only about 17 million Americans buy their own health insurance. If 50 million did so through HSAs, we'd see at least a 30% reduction in medical costs, studies show, thanks to increased competition in the market.

By putting the patient back in charge of health care, making him a buyer as well as a user of care, a nationwide HSA rollout would create a large enough consumer-driven market to control costs.

Then the health care market would work more like a real market.

The medical costs Americans complain about were caused by government, not the private sector. This is a little recognized fact.

More government will not only ramp up costs, but deteriorate the one thing American patients seldom complain about — the quality of their health care.
As health economist David Catron so eloquently puts it:
The plight of the uninsured is a SYMPTOM. It is NOT the disease. If our attempts at health care reform do not recognize this fact, the real disease will continue to metastasize. What is the real disease? Perverse incentives caused by a series of government interventions in the health care market, not the least of which being misguided tax breaks for employer-provided insurance.