Linda Chavez

Potentially, even those who have employer-provided policies might have an incentive to push for lower-cost plans, since they will be taxed on the value of the premiums. If they're relatively healthy, they might prefer higher deductibles for routine care, or they might want only catastrophic insurance to pay for some unexpected illness, injury or hospital stay.

The real question is: Would new forms of insurance spring up to meet a new demand for lower-premium policies? In a free market, there's no reason to believe they wouldn't.

We already have such a system in other forms of insurance. When you buy auto insurance, you can choose to pay lower premiums but accept higher deductibles on any claims. When you purchase life insurance, you determine how much coverage to buy, and pay premiums accordingly, as you do for property insurance.

And there might even be some other benefits if individuals were paying directly for their own health insurance, rather than having a third party pay. Safe drivers get breaks on their auto insurance because the company isn't as likely to have to pay out claims as it is on a reckless, accident-prone driver.

The same goes for life insurance. A slim non-smoker who doesn't engage in risky hobbies would pay lower life insurance premiums than a chubby, pack-a-day amateur skydiver would.

Maybe if more Americans had to pay their health insurance premiums directly, they'd be more likely to follow their doctors' advice to lose weight, quit smoking and engage in moderate exercise, because their premiums would go down accordingly.

But the Democrats' only alternatives to the current system are to force more employers to provide ever more expensive plans to expanding groups of workers -- or have government pick up the tab.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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