Instead of Tightening Government's Grip on Healthcare, Give Americans a Personal Option
As America begins to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview, the lesson from this once-in-a-generation crisis couldn’t be clearer: We need less, not more, central planning in our lives.
For example, a study earlier this year by health economist Casey Mulligan revealed that economic lockdowns mandated by government were counterproductive, given the significant steps workplaces took to prevent the virus from spreading.
The same is true with health care. By now, most folks know the story of how Operation Warp Speed — the previous administration’s unprecedented plan to trim bureaucracy from the vaccine development process — resulted in the creation of multiple safe and effective vaccines in record time. But an equally important storyline is how states took a sledgehammer to their own bureaucracies to expand access to care for those in need.
Thirty-eight states increased the availably of telehealth in response to the pandemic. Another 24 states waived certificate-of-need laws, which require hospitals to receive a permission slip from the government before they can open or add new facilities.
COVID-19 is forcing a long-overdue transformation of how health care is delivered in our country. As University of Michigan professor Rashid Bashur recently put it, “the genie’s out of the bottle.”
And yet, President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and others in Congress are remarkably missing this point. Even though their big government approach to health care hasn’t increased access to affordable care, they claim the solution is to double down on this failed path. The far left is pushing Biden to adopt even more radical ideas, like putting government in complete control of health care.
Instead of an even more centralized system, let’s give voters what they deserve — a personal option that keeps what they like about their health care, fixes what they don’t like, and puts people, not bureaucrats, in control of their care.
One important improvement would be to expand tax-free health savings accounts. HSAs save people at least 15 percent each time they make a health care purchase. Yet, given the current constraints, only one in 10 Americans are eligible for an HSA at any given time. By expanding eligibility, more Americans would be able to save for health care costs. For those with less income, Congress could directly fund their accounts.
There is strong bipartisan support for expanding the use of telehealth, which has the ability to level the playing field in terms of location and access. While it has seen an uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic, this technology is still not available to all, especially in underserved rural and urban communities. There is bipartisan support for giving more Americans access to virtual care. Lawmakers should waste no time getting it done.
While short-term coverage is, by definition, not a long-term solution, it is a viable option for people and families, especially when the policy holder is between jobs. In some states, short-term plans cost up to 80 percent less than traditional health insurance plans. While opponents feared short-term plans would drive up prices on the ACA exchanges, the only states where premiums have gone up are in the five that prohibit short-term plans.
For far too long, the Food and Drug Administration has taken its time in approving drugs and medical devices that were approved in other advanced countries, such as Japan and in the EU. In addition, the FDA won’t allow the sharing of valid scientific information about promising experimental or “off-label” uses of already approved drugs and devices. Changing these processes could save many lives and result in cost savings.
All of this builds on reforms proposed last year in Healthcare For You, and these ideas resonate strongly with Americans. A recent poll by Public Option Strategies shows that voters prefer a personal option to the “public option” or “Medicare for All” by nearly 40 points. Among independents, the poll found that a personal option outperformed “Medicare for All” by 60 points and the “public option” by more than 35 points
The point is, there are smarter, more effective, and more popular ways to reduce costs and give people more options than simply expanding government’s grip over the system.
For years, opponents of government-run health care have made this argument but haven’t sold the public on a compelling enough alternative. That alternative has arrived.
It’s time to deliver a health care system that works for everyone. It’s time for a personal option.
Tom Price is a physician who served as Health and Human Services secretary in 2017 and is a former U.S. congressman from Georgia.