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.