Thursday, February 8, 2007

Don't Forget Consumer Choice in Reforming the Health Care System!

Bill Boyles is the publisher of Consumer Driven Market Report and Health Market Survey. He is one of the most effective spokesmen for the consumer driven movement and the effectiveness of the market in managing the cost and quality of care.

Today, he reminds us that those offering the new reform proposals shouldn't forget consumer choice:

The Uninsured Need Consumer Choice First

The only humane way to help the uninsured is to let them choose how much they can afford out-of-pocket and then enroll in that plan. Dozens of studies show why: the vast majority of people lacking insurance simply cannot afford it. Offering them unaffordable options is not only unworkable, it’s cruel.

Allowing people to choose high deductibles is never mentioned by all the Wal-Marts and coalitions and pious employer alliances. That’s too much detail. Once the cameras are packed up the job is over and the pious groups are delighted by headlines saying the issue is reaching new heights.

The worst example of this cruelty is the Massachusetts plan and its progeny in other states. They give the uninsured no choice at all under the guise of allowing them to choose their plan in brightly-colored brochures. The victim then finds out they cannot choose a low-premium plan which matches how much they can afford in out-of-pocket costs for their own family. It’s a false promise – hiding under the guise of “we know how much you need and we won’t offer you a cheaper plan because it’s not good enough.”

Surprise. You can’t force Americans to buy health insurance they can’t afford -- even if it is what they need. Even if it is what’s best for “the system.”

The irony here is that a better solution is endorsed by both Sen. Kennedy on the left and conservative health economists on the right. The new Kennedy plan offers all families a choice of plans via the federal employees program model, including varying deductibles, copays and premiums. The same distribution model is endorsed by the Heritage Foundation and others.

The state plans do not even have to go that far. They could offer the uninsured a choice of five plans with five levels of out-of-pocket costs and five levels of premium. These plans can easily be mandated to have low-cost prevention coverage too. No government-developed standardized benefits package can outguess the personal selection of a health plan when family income is so low that comprehensive coverage is out of the question.

For 30 years Americans have been told they cannot be offered things like high deductibles with low premiums because it’s bad for them and the system. It’s time for all of these companies and coalitions and Wal-Marts to stop the self-righteous talk and give the people a choice of what they can afford.


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