By Tom Price
America’s health care system, a world leader in medical care, is fundamentally flawed. The focus of the health care delivery system has moved away from patient care and onto the bottom line.
As this has happened, the nation’s health care system of the 20th century has been unable to adapt to the dynamic needs of the 21st century – an environment where employee turnover is the norm in an international economy of a magnitude we have never known. This has led to unprecedented change in health care.
The system of yesteryear allows health insurance decisions to be made by employers, insurance companies or the government. Patients lack choice when it comes to what doctors they are allowed to see and what health plans from which to choose. As a former physician, seeing this development has been troubling. The most important item in all of medicine – the doctor-patient relationship – has been compromised.
Flexibility and portability in health insurance must become the standard if we are to move away from the current third-party model and toward a defined contribution system centered on the needs of patients. Continued reliance on a system pieced together haphazardly so that patients pay for unneeded services or simply do not receive coverage is unacceptable.
To move this nation’s health care system in the direction and spirit of individual choice, I have proposed a Health Insurance Patient Ownership Plan that would give individuals ownership and control of their health care dollars. This initiative would empower patients to make the best, informed decisions for themselves and their families: Health care is a very individual, personal decision that can never be successful under a bulk system of delivery.
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have started this trend, and the success of the program has not gone unnoticed. Already, millions of Americans are saving money on their health care while receiving more choices and more personal care. The workplace as we know it has changed, and the adaptation to this shifting dynamic could not have come at a better time.
When the third-party delivery system was developed, companies were able to absorb health care costs, offer employees extensive plans and no one thought twice. This arrangement, however, led to employees being sold a false bill of goods. Employees labor under the misunderstanding that they are receiving free health-care coverage when, in fact they give up higher wages in lieu of health benefits.
The marketplace has been turned upside down with the evolution of an international economy. Health care costs are now the leading expenses for companies. Worse, these businesses are not merely absorbing the costs, they are passing them on to the consumer in the form of higher prices for goods and services.
Nearly nine out of 10 companies with fewer than 200 employees offer only one health plan, and 53 percent of all workers who are offered employer-provided coverage have no more than two options to choose. This lack of choice is not just discouraging, it could also be dangerous to those whose health care conditions may require a more sophisticated and flexible plan.
Patient care often takes a back seat under this model. The practice of defensive medicine and limited resources have priced millions out of the health insurance market. These rank high among the reasons that an estimated 45 million people without health insurance coverage at some point over the past year.
At first glance, employer-based health care seems like an attractive option for people. . But the lack of individual ownership and personal choice have done a disservice to employees and companies alike. The old way of doing business has proven ineffective: Had the health care delivery system been developed with an ability to adapt to the changes in patient needs, patients would have greater control over their immediate health care needs today. Twenty-first century health care must be based on the individual’s opportunity to own a health insurance policy and the freedom to select a health care provider based on personal, specific needs. This should not be done by insurance companies or by lawmakers in Washington.
Medicine is a nimble, ever-changing science where breakthroughs are made on a daily basis. Entrusting the government with personal health care decisions does not make sense. Government bureaucracy is inherently inflexible, unable to keep up with advances or respond to the needs of patients in a timely manner. A patient-centered health care system is the best method to provide high-quality health care that is affordable and accessible – and personal.
U.S. Representative Tom Price, who represents Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, wrote this commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature. © Georgia Public Policy Foundation June 23, 2006. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.