Wednesday, May 14, 2014

OpEd: Real Healthcare Reform Should Focus On Care, Not Just Coverage

O-Care’s one-size-fits-all failure

By: Nancy Pfotenhauer  -  The Hill  -  May 8, 2016

Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that universal health insurance is the central goal of a successful health care reform. The left sold the Affordable Care Act to the American people on this promise; the right hopes to do the same with an alternative plan set to be unveiled later this year.

Both sides are trying to fix the wrong problem. Universal health insurance is profoundly different from better health care—and so long as reformers focus on the former, the latter will continue to deteriorate.

Real healthcare reform must improve the quality of America’s healthcare system. At its most fundamental level, healthcare exists to improve individuals’ health outcomes and overall well-being. Beneficial reforms will thus improve those outcomes, increase healthcare’s quality and lower its costs, with the ancillary effect of expanding its availability.

This is a more worthy goal than putting a health insurance card in everyone’s hand, a la ObamaCare and its Republican replacements. Universal health insurance is merely the provision of a service regardless of that service’s quality. This cannot be achieved without the assistance of a massive bureaucratic apparatus in Washington that stifles innovation, limits consumer choice and increases its costs. Thus, reforms that seek universal health insurance decrease healthcare’s quality, and they don’t deliver on their promise to make coverage universal.

Better healthcare will not be realized without unleashing market-driven innovation. Reformers can’t pretend that this existed prior to Obama-Care’s passage. Then, as now, federal regulations hemmed in consumers and innovators on every side. ObamaCare’s mandates only expand this restrictive regulatory regime.

Innovators and consumers should be unshackled from the reams of red tape. This starts by putting patients—not bureaucrats or insurance companies—at the center of health care. Patients must be free to choose a health plan that is tailored to their needs, not one with benefit mandates created by special interests. Patients need access to real-time health care provider data that doesn’t hide costs or quality behind an impenetrable wall of bureaucratic regulations. Patients should be empowered to improve their own health using breakthrough technologies and personalized treatments.

Thus free to choose, consumers will seek out products and services that actually fit their needs. Innovators will concurrently strive to develop treatments and health care options that consumers want—and at a price they can afford.

No one-size-fits-all federal policy can accomplish this goal.

For instance, several state and federal laws prevent innovators and consumers from working together. So, multiple policy proposals targeting these barriers should be considered and challenged. 

National Center for Policy Analysis President John Goodman’s ideas about improving the poor’s access to care can be coupled with Cato Institute Director of Health Policy Studies Michael Cannon’s ideas about getting prices closer to consumers. Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) idea about equalizing the tax treatment of insurance policies can be one of a number of policies, along with Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) and Rep. Tom Price’s (R-Ga.) slightly different approaches. Economist John Cochrane has proposals to help those with pre-existing conditions; Bob Graboyes, a senior research fellow at George Mason University, details how we can unleash healthcare innovation. And ideas by the likes of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), and many others all have promise.

Every proposal should be judged by whether it leads to better healthcare for individuals and families, not whether it gives them a health insurance plan they don’t want or can’t afford. Until this shift happens, the country’s healthcare system will continue to serve Washington’s whims rather than Americans’ well-being. 

Pfotenhauer is the president of MediaSpeak Strategies and a senior adviser with Freedom Partners, a nonprofit advocate for free-market policy.

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