Universal health care won’t boost productivity

Published 9:03 am Monday, December 29, 2008

By By Tray Smith
Supporters of universal health insurance, including the incoming president, tout their agenda as a cure for the current recession. By expanding medical coverage to the 45 million uninsured Americans, they hope to increase the productivity of the workforce and reignite economic growth.
Yet, 88 percent of the uninsured are estimated to be in good health. Spending billions of dollars on public programs will not improve their health status and will not improve their productivity as workers.
Most of the uninsured are healthy because they are young. The segment of the population most likely to be uninsured is young adults between the ages of 19 and 24. These are individuals who have recently lost coverage from their parents’ plans and have yet to regain coverage through their employer.
Up to seven of the 45 million uninsured Americans surveyed by the government may already be covered by public programs. Studies have found that many Medicaid beneficiaries do not report their status accurately on surveys, as Medicaid reports many more participants than detected by the Census Bureau, which tracks the number of uninsured individuals.
Another one-fourth of the uninsured population could enroll in Medicaid or SCHIP if they choose too, but have simply not signed up for coverage. In total, up to 18 of the 45 million uninsured Americans either are already enrolled in public health insurance or could be if they took the time to register.
Because the government surveys the uninsured population once a year, its numbers reflect the number of people uninsured at the time the survey is conducted, not the number of people uninsured for the entire year. Research has found that about half of the people counted uninsured by the government become insured within 12 months. These individuals are likely transitioning between jobs and temporarily without health insurance. Again, spending billions of dollars providing health care for those Americans, who are likely to eventually enroll in another health insurance plan, will not improve the productivity of the workforce.
Of the 45 million Americans without health insurance, 10 million are not citizens, and five million of those are illegal immigrants. Nine million live in households earning over $75,000 in annual income and could afford insurance if they choose to buy it.
Most of the uninsured are either young Americans who have yet to join a health insurance plan or unemployed workers shifting between jobs. The overwhelming majority are healthy and less than half go over a year without health care. While several changes need to be made to the way we finance health coverage, the fundamental goal of federal policy should be lower health care cost, not fewer uninsured citizens.
Eventually, if the explosive growth in the costs of health insurance is reduced, more businesses and workers will be able to afford it and the number of uninsured people will shrink. Lower health costs will lead to more efficient health care delivery systems and boost the overall economy. However, simply adding another government program to the myriad of insurance plans already offered will burden the economy by diverting more resources to fund an inefficient health care system. The Obama plan may increase the number of people on government assistance, but it will not increase the productivity of the American workforce.
That’s the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a former page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at tsmith_90@hotmail.com. His column appears weekly.

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