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Shoving government health care down your throat

By Richard E. Ralston
web posted August 15, 2005

One of the few bright spots in paying for health care today has been the introduction of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), in conjunction with low-premium, high-deductible insurance policies. In what is perhaps the most popular medical insurance reform in history, more than a million consumers in California and elsewhere have already established these plans that provide tax incentives, reduce cost and increase personal choice.

The California Department of Insurance is now taking steps to outlaw these insurance policies and savings accounts in California. The Department has just released a report and public relations effort that attacks such consumer choice as a threat to the Insurance Commissioner's personal agenda to bring all health care under government management through a "universal" health care system. ("Priced Out: Health Care in California") (PDF format)

About the only honest feature of the report is in the opening disclaimer from Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi: "This report is not a neutral presentation of facts. . . This report and the recommendations contained in it are my views and opinions and those of my staff" This is Commissioner Garamendi's way of telling you he is using your tax dollars to turn the Department of Insurance into his personal political lobbying organization. The pervasive use of his name and loving photograph in the report might also indicate that the report is a way to use your tax dollars to run for Governor. Particularly touching were his reminiscences of his service in the Peace Corps.

Because of their tax advantages, HSAs are attacked as being a benefit only for the wealthy. Take a moment and try to picture Donald Trump greedily rushing to shelter $2600 in one of these accounts so he can save a couple of hundred bucks in taxes. These accounts aren't worth the paperwork for the wealthy. They are worth the effort for most of us-middle class consumers who struggle to pay both their taxes and their insurance premiums. This is both smart and a principled way to take personal responsibility for health care. Commissioner Garamendi seems unconcerned with such people-probably because they don't want to have to rely on him for their health care.

The report also attacks HSAs and the high-deductible insurance policies to which they are linked because they "are likely to cause many to forgo necessary treatment." In other words, all of these wealthy consumers with HSAs will not spend their own money for their own health care. They will seek treatment only when someone else is required to pay for it. Wow! This is in a report whose supposed purpose is addressing the high cost of health care now. Imagine what it will cost when we shove "necessary treatment" down the throats of well-off people who don't want it.

It is clearly the very popularity of HSAs with consumers that the Commissioner sees as a threat. The chief complaint is that the federal government could make better use of the $7 billion a year in tax savings which these consumers realize: "These resources would be spent more effectively if they were used to help fund a universal health care system." Of course, $7 billion would not even be a drop in the bucket for such a system. But the principle upon which these government functionaries base this fatuity is that government spends money on health care for everyone "more effectively" than individuals can for themselves. The history and cost of the massive increase of government intrusion in health care in the last forty years clearly demonstrates the absurdity of such an assertion. But as the objective of the report is a vast increase in government power and government control of your daily lives, such facts need to be papered over.

If you have a Health Savings Account in California, or ever want to have one, you will have to defend it in the face of those grasping for government power. Consumers elsewhere need to be alert to the fact that other ambitious Insurance Commissioners may soon be inspired to assault personal choice in their states.

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

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