Letter to the editor

Our current health care system is based on the faulty premise that someone else should be responsible for our health care and its costs. We insist on paying a modest premium to profit-seeking insurers to cover every possible illness. It sounds nice, but it doesn't work.

Milt Zall's Dec. 3 column, "Rethinking health care," voices a common reaction: mandating cost containment, which tends toward a socialist answer in a capitalist environment. In such a solution, the employee (a health care consumer) has no incentive to take better care of himself. Why should he? He can always use his insurance program to get a pill or low-cost-out-of-pocket surgery.

A better solution would be to recognize that we are responsible for our own health and its attendant costs. Medical insurance should be for catastrophic illnesses or diseases above some annual amount per family, such as $3,000 to $4,000. In this system, the health care consumer would cover costs up to the annual limit before insurance pays.

When we pay for our own health care, we become better consumers by deciding which medicines to buy and which physicians to see, unhampered by third-party insurers second-guessing our own or our physicians' decisions. Free-market medicine lowers medical costs as medical providers file fewer insurance claims. Insurance premiums also drop drastically because the insurers are freed from the majority of their current expenses — overseeing and paying for routine or minor office visits and medications.

Such a free-market system already exists and has been working throughout the United States for several years for small companies — the Medical Savings Accounts. Congress sweetened the MSA deal by allowing employees to have $3,000 to $4,000 withheld in a tax-free account akin to a medical individual retirement account. The money withheld lowers the employee's tax bracket, and the employee may spend the money for any medical need, including those not covered by insurers, such as cough medicine and eyeglasses.

MSAs have no third-party adjudication. The employee simply hands the receipt to the employer and is paid from his own account. Employers typically match part of the employee's contribution. The unspent MSA dollars accrue, with interest, and are distributed tax-free to the employee upon retirement.

In private industry, employees overwhelmingly prefer MSAs to conventional insurance. They work and provide the employee total choice in medical care decisions. Imagine the effect on our economy if the nation's largest employer, the federal government, were to adopt the MSA option.

Therefore, I suggest that your readers would be better served asking their representatives to expand the MSA law to all employers instead of forcing cost containment.

Richard Griffith

Shreveport, La.

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