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A Voice from Fly-Over Country
October 6, 2009

100% Solution for a 15% Problem
by Robert L. Hale

MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA — National statistics indicate that approximately 15 percent of people in America do not carry health insurance. This comes to about 45 million people — including 12 million to 15 million illegal aliens. Of the rest, approximately half could afford to purchase insurance but chooses not to do so.

Health insurance premiums have risen at double-digit rates for many years. No one likes it when bills increase. However, politicians see this rise as an opportunity to grow government. With few exceptions, elected officials have jumped on the bandwagon of “health care reform,” in short, government control over health care.

Curiously, this is not the case with fuel prices. The cost of a gallon of gasoline has, over the last 10 years, risen at a much steeper rate than the price of health insurance. What steps have been taken to reduce gasoline prices? None — in fact, the opposite has happened. The current administration has revoked coastal leases, effectively shutting down exploration off our west coast. Exploration of prime oil sites in Alaska is prohibited. Billions of taxpayer dollars are being thrown at bio-fuels. All of this even though the cost of a gallon of bio-fuel is significantly higher than a gallon of gasoline, and increasing use of bio-fuels increases grocery bills.

The federal bureaucracy, in the name of “fixing” health care, wants to take over health care. This move is being promoted as “compassionate” and necessary to save our health care system. The “takeover” would result in virtually total government control. Every proposal to date does this in one way or another. The bottom line is complete federal control.

Unfortunately, no one is asking any of the right questions and none of the proposals addresses the root causes of the rapid increase in costs. None of the bills addresses tort reform. HB 3200 does not even mention the impact of litigation on health care costs, let alone address it.

Litigation has forced the health care industry to aggressively practice “defensive medicine.” Doctors and hospitals frequently run batteries of tests that they might not run but for the threat of litigation. The precautions drive up costs. Skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance — fueled by relentless and unfounded litigation — has become a major cost item for doctors, hospitals, and other health care professionals.

The same is true of pharmaceutical companies. It is estimated that every new drug brought to market carries multibillion-dollar liability coverage. In addition, the time it takes to bring a new drug to market in the U.S. dwarfs the process in other countries. It is not only the time that is the problem. It is the degree of testing and the astronomical costs imposed that are the primary drivers in the escalating cost of drugs in our country. Nothing in the proposed legislation addresses this issue.

All proposals mandate that everyone purchase health insurance. All proposals set up a federal bureaucracy telling insurance companies what must be covered. Failure to buy a policy results in penalties — so much for freedom of choice.

The debate has ignored the fact today health “insurance” really does not do what insurance was designed to do. Today, health insurance is looked at to pay for virtually anything and everything related to health care — and it is priced accordingly.

If auto insurance were regarded this way, it would cover oil changes, tires, regular maintenance, fuel, car washes, windshield wiper blades, and likely annual professional cleaning. Imagine the cost of that insurance!

Why has health insurance gotten out of control? It has a lot to do with government involvement. Until the advent of Medicare, government had a relatively small role in private health care. Health insurance was exactly that — insurance. People paid for regular health care needs out of pocket, including prescriptions.

If we want to fix “health care insurance,” we must return to what insurance is intended to do — insure against the major and unexpected events — rather than fund everything that happens to us. In addition, we need to implement tort reform and the Food and Drug Administration’s drug approval process.

The alternative is the 100% Solution. If you like the way Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Veterans Administration, and our national debt has been handled, then rest assured the same people want to totally manage your health care.

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A Voice from Fly-Over Country is copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert L. Hale received his J.D. in law from Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane, Washington. He is founder and director of a non-profit public interest law firm. For more than three decades he has been involved in drafting proposed laws and counseling elected officials in ways to remove burdensome and unnecessary rules and regulations.

See a complete biographical sketch.

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