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Let's keep health care reform simple

By Richard E. Ralston
web posted May 5, 2008

The status quo in American health care is indefensible—an expensive regulatory and bureaucratic mess. What that calls for, however, is not more layers of regulation and complicated mandates. Nor should government take over health care completely and run it as part of a political spoils system.

State government proposals have proven too expensive in California and have collapsed. In Massachusetts expenses for mandatory insurance after one year are spiraling out of control faster than budgets can be printed. New recommendations in Colorado and elsewhere are being shelved because they are also too expensive to be considered at present. The alternative is one of elegance and simplicity: adopt changes now that require no new government expense, but that remove regulatory complexity and allow freedom of choice. To achieve that end, we need to adopt a few simple rules.

The first simple rule: Make all medical services, insurance and personal savings for such expenses exempt from all federal, state and local income and payroll taxes. Those who complain about the cost of medical care and insurance must be confronted with the fact that if we cannot afford medical care, we surely cannot afford to pay taxes on the money we set aside for it.

The second simple rule: Allow an individual or corporate tax deduction equal to double the value of the service for all charity care by medical care providers. At one time America had a vigorous network of private charity care, which was largely destroyed by the government barging in. We need to restore that environment of private charity, which was more efficient, effective and compassionate.

The third simple rule: Pass legislation now proposed in the U.S. Congress that would give every individual or business the ability to purchase insurance in a national market, from insurance companies in any state. That would allow for ownership of health insurance that is more affordable and can follow individuals from job to job and state to state. The increased competition between insurance companies would restrain the cost of insurance.

The fourth simple rule: Allow the purchase of basic health insurance with high deductibles and low premiums that covers major illness or injury and annual exams, in conjunction with tax-free accounts for out-of-pocket expenses, such as deductibles. That, more than anything, would make insurance premiums more affordable for Americans who fear the financial consequences of health misfortune.

The fifth simple rule: Broaden the availability of optional coverage provided by Medicare Advantage, but allow for additional tax-deductible premiums to be paid by those seniors who elect such options. More choices from more options should be available to retirees—but not paid for by taxpayers. This would allow for expanded and more efficient coverage, and reintroduce an element of competition to those who seek to provide health care to seniors.

The sixth simple rule: Allow Medicare patients to utilize their Health Savings Accounts to pay for services from their Medicare physicians. This could bring thousands of doctors back into the Medicare program overnight and eliminate the ridiculous and unjust prohibition on those who want to spend their own money on their medical care.

The seventh simple rule: Limit non-economic or punitive damages in all malpractice or other litigation against medical providers or drug and medical equipment firms to a maximum of $250,000 (indexed for inflation). This would wring the bonanza for a few law firms out of the current ocean of litigation—and the high cost of "defensive medicine" now practiced by providers as protection against such legal extortion. The effect would be a reduction in the cost of medical care and insurance for everyone.

While these changes would result in more efficient, affordable and uncomplicated health care, achieving them will be no simple matter—thanks to those who oppose any improvements as an obstacle to massive new government controls. But we can stop new regulations, mandates, taxes, government spending and administrative agencies. We can uphold the rational alternative—freedom and personal choice—which can improve the quality and affordability of health care without government spending. ESR

Richard E. Ralston is Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, Newport Beach, California. Copyright © 2008 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.


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