Health care system needs a new prescription

Published 3:58 am Monday, June 12, 2006

By By Tray Smith
While our nation's health care system provides the best quality health care of any system in the world, it is undeniable that it is in need of significant reforms. Most of these needs are because of the cost and inefficiency of our medical industry, which are caused by overregulation and trial lawyers. Rising premiums continue to put financial pressure on businesses and families alike. Public entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid will pose a huge liability to the taxpayers on both the state and federal level. Our ability to compete on a global playing field will be damaged. For example, GM spends more money per car on employee health care than aluminum.
Forty million Americans currently are uninsured, and they drive up cost for everyone else. Our hospitals have also failed to adequately adapt to the information age, continuing to operate with nowhere near the technology of our banks.
To solve these problems, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney recently signed a momentous health care reform bill into law. Several types of health care reform have been proposed over the past few years, but none have been as promising as the Massachusetts law. While it will take time to be implemented and have a positive effect, I am very optimistic that it may be the perfect prescription for America's health care industry.
First, it is important to outline what this type of health care reform rightly does not do. It does not put the government in charge of our medical industry as Bill Clinton's health care reform plan would have done. It does not place price controls on medical products that stiffen innovation and reduce medical supplies. It does not remove the patient from the driver's seat in the decision making process. Instead, it continues to rely on the free market as the primary provider of health care in America.
Secondly, the Massachusetts health industry will benefit from the changes that the law does make. It requires that everyone must have health insurance. If someone does not buy health insurance on his own, then the state will keep his or her tax returns in a special fund to cover that person's medical expenses. This eliminates the need for an uncompensated care fund, which states currently use to reimburse doctors for treating the uninsured. The money from that fund is instead put into a program that provides lower class working families with a subsidy, depending on their percentage of the poverty level, to buy health insurance. Thus, no one has an excuse for not enrolling in an insurance plan.
The plan also establishes an independent "Connector". The connector will be affiliated with the state and will have a large pool of insurance plans for people to select. For instance, if there were a married couple in which each spouse worked at a different place, their employers would be able to make a cash contribution to their health plan. Then, they could take any money from the subsidy, if they qualify, and combine it with their employer's contribution. The family could then select the health plan that is right for them.
Fourth, health savings accounts will be available through the connector. Health savings accounts allow for families to deposit money in an account tax-free. It comes with a high deductible health insurance plan. Thus, any catastrophic medical needs will be covered by the high deductible plan. However, money from health savings accounts could be used for routine medical expenses such as check ups, physical, and dental cleaning. Because people will be more conservative with their own money than with their insurance company's coverage, they will be more likely to shop for cheaper care which will lower the overall cost of health care.
Eventually, such a model could replace Medicare and Medicaid. It could also help state governments provide health insurance for their workers and retiree's. It can be expanded to the national level or be taken one state at a time. It can be expended to provide enhancements for health information technology and medical malpractice reform. I am optimistic about the future of medicine in our country. We have to be, it is our life. That is the bottom line. Next week, I will begin a three weeks series on my internship with the Governor.
Tray Smith writes a weekly political column for the Atmore Advance. He can be reached for contact at

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