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Health care on April 15: How taxes and government damage your health

By Richard E. Ralston
web posted April 11, 2005

As you raise a pen to sign your tax return this year, you will undoubtedly regret that the United States Treasury is taking so much of your income. You should also ask why so much of the income you have left is spent on health care and health insurance. The two questions are related.

The plain fact is that the U.S. government spends more of your tax dollars "providing" health care every year. The expense is increasing rapidly, and the rate of increase for Medicare and other programs will escalate further as the years pass. At the same time, what you have to pay for health care or health insurance will increase even faster. This may seem illogical. It is not. It is the ruthless logic of cause and effect. Your health care costs will continue to escalate not in spite of government involvement with health care, but because of it.

Does anyone really believe that, if the cost of something is a problem, the federal government is the solution? As P.J. O'Rourke has remarked, "If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it is free."

Contemporary medicine, from the development of new prescription drugs, to revolutionary diagnostic tools, to innovative new treatments and break-through surgical procedures, is a highly technological field. It is changing at breath-taking speed, based on dynamic science that the government cannot begin to understand, let alone micro-manage. A few hundred thousand civil servants will not add clarity to the process. If they try hard, they can probably destroy a lot of this progress through rationing, controls, bureaucracy, and political favoritism. But the traditional government approach-pumping in billions of dollars of government money-has not heretofore demonstrated an ability to decrease costs. The government cannot even control the cost of something as straightforward as postage stamps!

Health care can be expensive. Innovation, break-through technologies, and new drugs all require brains, hard work, and freedom. Private investors require one other thing that government programs do not: results. Government spending and controls will chase away the investments that get results, and attract those who want to build administrative empires with your taxes.

A near government monopoly on anything becomes an enormous magnet that draws in special interests, political cronies, and anyone with an agenda that cannot resist the levers of power. What has long since happened to education in this country is now happening to medicine. Will powerful national health care unions focus on better health care for individuals, or on higher wages and shorter hours for their members? Will politicians put the interest of patients first, or the interests of workers whose paychecks are automatically tapped every month to make political contributions? Will the quality of health care improve for everyone, or only for those with "politically correct" diseases-if even them? Will affirmative action mean that the best health care will be reserved for those who used to get the worst? The possibilities that politicians can exploit are endless.

The best way to reduce both taxes and the cost of health care is to keep control of your own health care. That means that you have to take responsibility to insure that it is paid for. Recent tax code provisions for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can help you do this. In conjunction with low premium, high-deductible health insurance policies, this puts health care within the financial reach of most Americans. While President Bush has unfortunately done much to expand government involvement in your health care, he has now made one decent proposal-tax exemption for the cost of those insurance premiums.

If you would like to have a healthier experience on April 15th in future years, look into tax free Health Savings Accounts. Fight to liberate your health insurance premiums from the burden of tax, and to keep the heavy hand of government managed health care from threatening your life.

Richard E. Ralston is Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. Send comments to mail@afcm.org.

 

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