No More Free Lunch at the Health Care Buffet

Frank Pastore

9/23/2007 12:00:28 AM - Frank Pastore

All this health care talk can sometimes get confusing.

Who doesn’t want better health care for less money? I’d love to pay less for my insurance as long as I could still go to the doctors of my choice, the hospitals of my choice, and get the procedures and treatments of my choice. I’d like my prescription drugs to be cheaper too. I don’t want to wait several weeks to get in to see a doctor, and when I get in, I want the comfort of knowing that he or she is qualified to do what I expect.

I want all of this, and I’m sure you do too. Who doesn’t?

But, this isn’t what the health care debate is really about.

Let me be politically incorrect and state the obvious.

The rich will always be able to get the quality health care they want because they can simply buy it. But the poor cannot get quality care, because they simply can’t afford it. If they’re going to get health care at all, it will have to be given to them for free, or nearly free. The vast majority of us somewhere in the middle simply want to continue getting the best health care we can afford while paying for only our “fair share” and not being taken advantage of. We want the biggest bang for our buck without being played for fools.

The real issue in the current health care debate isn’t about the rich or the middle class, however. It’s about the poor and the best way to provide them free services without ruining the whole system for everybody else.

Liberals look to Europe and Canada as examples, believing that socialized medicine is the solution.

Conservatives believe that would be exactly the wrong way to go. We want less government in health care, not more. We want more market dynamics in the process and we want to allow people more ownership over their health care decisions. We believe this will solve most of the current problems and greatly improve the entire health care system without having to overcorrect, panic and hit the “HillaryCare” button.

There’s one fundamental dynamic that must be changed in our health care system, whether we go the liberal or the conservative route, and it has to do with basic human nature.

If something is free, it will be undervalued, underappreciated, taken for granted with a sense of entitlement, over-consumed, and ultimately wasted before finally being rationed. Think of those cafeteria-style restaurants with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Would we get healthier people and waste less food by giving them a “Free Buffet Coupon” every day for dinner or a $20 bill and the choice of ordering off a menu and keeping the change?

Obviously, someone does pay for the “free” healthcare provided to the poor: the American taxpayer.

But, instead of taxpayers handing a “Free Buffet Coupon” directly to the cashier for all the poor, what we’ve got to do is provide the poor—and all health care consumers—with a greater sense of ownership, individual responsibility and choice to eliminate the incentive to overeat and waste food.

The best way to do this is with money, either in the form of cash or credit.

After all, if we want people to save for college or retirement, we offer them a tax-free IRA.

If we want people to buy houses, we allow them to deduct the mortgage interest from their taxable income.

And, if we want people to save money for health care, we should let them open a tax-free Health Savings Account.

And, if we want them to buy health insurance, we should allow them to deduct the health insurance premiums.

Put simply, if we want people to lead healthier lives, we need to give them the incentive to do so. The message has got to be, “An unhealthy life costs you money, a healthy life saves you money.” If you lead a “high risk” lifestyle, you should expect to pay a higher premium on your health insurance than someone who is more health conscious.

If good drivers with clean records can get a discount on their auto insurance, then why can’t those who lead a healthy life get a discount on their health insurance?

This isn’t discrimination, it’s the market doing what it does best: analyzing risk and fixing cost.

We’ve got to come up with a way for the poor to take ownership of their health care and the best way I know of to do this is with money.

If we don’t do this, I’m afraid liberals will convince a majority of voters that HillaryCare is our only option “for the poor,” and we’re going to lose the best health care system in the world.