Brian Baker: Personal choice and real free-market health care

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On May 25 The Signal published a column by Steve Lunetta entitled “Health care free market an abject failure,” and I have to take great issue with much of what he wrote.

He claims that “All attempts to create a ‘free market’ in health care have failed here in the United States.”

What “attempts”? How can they have “failed” when there haven’t been any attempts to begin with? Oh, there used to be a free market in health care, but it was so long ago that at 68 years of age I can barely remember it.

The only thing that’s been “attempted” in the last five decades or so has been to exert ever more government control and regulation of that market segment.

In all the anecdotal “evidence” Steve presents in the column, one glaring element simply leaps out at me: he had an HMO, which he described as a “blessing,” and he apparently made the decision to switch to a PPO, from which all his described problems arise.

If his organization is like the ones I worked for, as an employee I had a choice between either a PPO or an HMO. Didn’t he? Even if he didn’t, he certainly wasn’t forced by his employer to participate in the firm’s PPO program.

So it seems to me that his problems with his health insurance provider are actually due to his own lack of due diligence and his own decision to participate in a PPO that doesn’t meet his perceived needs.

His lack of due diligence is also illustrated by his example of allowing visits by a doctor without asking first what his own charges would be for that doctor’s services. Why would anyone do that? That’s a question I always ask when a medical service or procedure is being contemplated.

The next problem here is that the insurance companies aren’t “making a mountain of money,” as he claims. In fact, under the current structure, many are facing serious financial problems and are withdrawing from many markets. Further, in many jurisdictions – this state being one of them – insurance profits are limited by law.

Then the ultimate sin: proposing “single-payer,” which means government-run health care. You want to see how well that will work out? Take a look at the VA system for your answer. Now imagine that being the national norm.

How about we actually try some real free-market health care for a change? For years I’ve promoted three steps to reforming the system:

1. Eliminate the artificial barriers to interstate competition for health care and insurance products. Let real competition begin.

2. Streamline the FDA approval process, which will significantly lower the cost of bringing new medicines and procedures to market.

3. Reform the medical tort system, which will lessen the costs involved in, and perceived need for, practicing “defensive medicine.”

Let’s do those three things, see how well they work, and only then see what else might be done to improve things.

Lastly, we as a society have to get away from the idea that there’s some magic bullet that will indemnify us from the vicissitudes of life. Some people are healthy until the day they drop dead; some are chronically ill for decades.

That’s just the way things are. It’s no different from anything else. Some people have investments that make them rich; some people go bankrupt. Life isn’t “fair.”

But no one ever said it would be.

Brian Baker is a Saugus resident.

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