Insure America’s newest entitlement by talking to Massachusetts

By Lynne McMillan

Now that we have (not quite successfully) nationalized the banking system, the housing industry and the automotive industry, we are ready to tackle the next critical “entitlement” for Americans: health care.

Not so fast. Isn’t it a bit of an oxymoron that health care is suddenly an entitlement, yet the providers of health care have long been perceived as greedy monsters, both by activists and the government? The pharmaceutical industry is often blamed for the high costs of health care and reviled on the same level as that of the tobacco and firearms industries. But prescription drug costs make up roughly 10 percent of overall health-care spending in America and are already being subsidized by Medicare Part D, whereas care for the uninsured costs continue to escalate with no government solution in sight.

A critical difference exists between making health care affordable and making health care free. A system that promises unlimited access with little-to-no cost to the patient is doomed to fail before it even starts because it diminishes a patient’s incentive to stay healthy in the first place. Further, a system that punishes the providers is akin to building a house and then refusing to pay the contractor. The government should do everything in its power to support the companies investing billions of dollars into research and development because the innovations discovered in the private sector will soon be the treatments and medicines that will change the face of health care more than any government policy ever could.

The critical link in “fixing” the health care system in America does not include nullifying drug patents or installing free first-aid kits in every public restroom. Any observance of universal health care systems around the world will teach you that government-run programs have the potential to deplete the quality of care drastically and stifle critical private investment. Therefore, the U.S. government’s health care reform efforts should be focused on restructuring health insurance practices and policy, not altering the system that has proven to be the most technologically advanced in the world.

Close to 50 million Americans are uninsured. But it’s not those people you should feel sorry for because it’s the other 250 million covered by insurance that end up footing the bill for the uninsured through higher costs.

The solution to the problem should not include demanding that insurers cover 100 percent of uninsured patient costs, as the Canada Health Act stipulates, or trying to force any other country’s approach to health care into our distinctly complicated system. The most practical answer is to do what America has always done best: Help people help themselves by making health insurance affordable and mandatory.

Former presidential candidate and Gov. Mitt Romney revolutionized the health care system in Massachusetts by starting small, beginning with compelling people that already qualify for Medicaid to simply sign up (three years ago 20 percent of those qualified had never bothered to sign up). Health insurance in Massachusetts is mandatory, just like automobile insurance, and 97 percent of the state is covered under either private, federal or state-subsidized plans. Although Massachusetts’ system is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction.

Mandating health insurance but giving individuals choices as to the details of coverage, puts citizens in better control of their health and protects the responsible, already-insured population from subsidizing the costs for someone that did not think health insurance was necessary.

To those that argue you should not be forced to buy anything you don’t think you will ever need: You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to free-ride off a health care system that is already bursting at the seams.

Lynne is a senior in Business and will be working in health care in June.