Let’s Reform Healthcare Without Growing the Government

by Peter J. Pitts

The nation’s preeminent business organization recently released a study showing that the high costs of the American healthcare system puts American businesses at a significant disadvantage. The Business Roundtable, which represents some of the country’s biggest corporations, found that for every $100 the U.S. spends on healthcare, our main competitor countries — the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, France, and German — only spend about 63 cents.

This study shows that healthcare reform is integral to the country’s economic recovery. President Obama understands this, and has vowed to pass comprehensive reform legislation by the end of the year. Unfortunately, administration
officials have indicated that their proposals will likely include raising taxes to finance a massive expansion of the public healthcare system.

But the American people resoundingly disapprove of this approach. The administration should toss it aside, and instead focus on implementing bipartisan measures that reform the system from the inside.

In a recent Rasmussen poll, less than half of respondents supported increasing taxes to pay for additional government-run health insurance.

Those results square with an October survey from my organization, the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, which found that a majority of “Millennial” voters – the 18-to-28-year-old bloc seen by many as a driving force in American politics – would not support any healthcare reform that could raise theirpersonal tax burden.

Instead of expanding the public healthcare system, here are some steps the administration should take:

Get everyone who already has access to health insurance to sign up. Five million uninsured Americans have employer-sponsored coverage available to them. They just haven’t taken advantage of it.

An easy way to remedy this problem is to allow employers to “auto-enroll” employees into the company health insurance plan. People would be allowed to opt-out of this system cost-free, thus retaining personal choice while cutting down on the ranks of the uninsured.

Twelve million people without health insurance are already qualified for public assistance programs like Medicare and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Educate these people about their options, and then get them insured.

The government should also implement a system of tax credits for low-income Americans to help them afford private insurance coverage.  Private plans are in many ways better suited for the modern workforce. The average person is highly mobile between employers. Business-sponsored insurance tends to be more robust, but people lose it when they leave their jobs.  Private insurance is portable, and ensures that people don’t experience any breaks in coverage during job transitions.

The final step the administration should take is to fight chronic disease. Seventy-five percent of the $2.2 trillion this country spends annually on healthcare goes towards treating chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer. And roughly half of the American population is suffering from one or more chronic illness.

Educating citizens about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle would prevent many instances of chronic illness. Simple behaviors like keeping a good diet and exercising regularly drastically cut down on key risk factors, particularly obesity, which is tightly linked to some of the country’s most costly chronic conditions.

Improving healthcare will help dig this country out of this recession. But further expansions of the government health system aren’t the way to go. That approach is deeply unpopular, and the administration has much better reform options available.

Peter Pitts is President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA Associate Commissioner.

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