Let's Make Health Care Inexpensive Again

by Harry Browne

May 2, 2002

The politicians are pushing to raise the cost of your health insurance again.

Of course, that's not how they describe what they're doing. They claim to be exercising compassion when they propose to force insurance companies to include mental illness in every health-insurance policy.

Politicians love to posture as friends of particular groups women, children, and people suffering from a particular disease by forcing insurance companies to cover some medical procedure that's important to a target audience. But every time the government (state or federal) forces insurers to include another benefit in your policy, your premium has to go up.

So it isn't surprising that over three decades the cost of health insurance has risen spectacularly.

Do You Need It?

Depending on the state you live in, your health insurance may be priced to include mandatory coverage of chiropractors, acupuncture, naturopathy, marriage counseling, abortions, drug abuse, alcoholism, treatments to stop smoking, cosmetic surgery, weight loss, wigs and other hairpieces, Christian Science practitioners, and dozens of other possibilities.

I have nothing against any of these treatments. But it makes no sense for the government to force you to pay for such coverage if you'd prefer a cheaper policy. Just as when you buy a computer or a cell phone, you should be able to select and pay for only the features you need and want not what the politicians think you need.

As the politicians keep pushing up the cost, every medical interest group suffers. So most of them go to Washington (or the state capitol) to lobby the politicians to provide relief by forcing insurers to add their favored treatment to the mandatory coverage pushing the price up further.

Losing Health Insurance

It may be hard to believe, but back in the 1950s health insurance cost just a few dollars a month for most people and it was available to virtually everyone, including people with pre-existing conditions.

The percentage of people covered grew steadily from the 1940s. And by the early 1970s, almost all Americans were covered by some form of insurance. Then the politicians went to work to load up policies with mandatory coverage of all sorts of conditions that may be of no use to you. More and more people decided that insurance had become too expensive and decided to risk being uninsured. By the 1990s coverage had dropped to under 70% of Americans.

In addition, many employers decided health coverage was too expensive. In 1980 fully 97% of the companies with 100 or more employees provided medical coverage. By 1995, only 77% were doing so.

The growing number of uninsured people gives politicians more ammunition for more programs to force more costs onto insurance companies, and to push the price of insurance still higher.

How HMOs Became So Powerful

The cost of insurance is only one area where the politicians have ruined our health-care system.

You may have noticed that they're also pushing for a "Patients' Bill of Rights" supposedly to give patients certain privileges in dealing with health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

No one is pushing for a "Bill of Rights" to protect patients against doctors or against druggists, supermarkets, computer stores, or interior decorators. So how did HMOs become so powerful and dictatorial that their customers need protection?

Nearly 30 years ago Congress passed the HMO Act of 1973 which subsidized HMOs and gave them a preferred position among employers. The Act was finally repealed in 1995, but by that time HMOs had become thoroughly entrenched as the centerpiece of employer-sponsored health programs.

Once again, the politicians are seizing the opportunity to save us from their own handiwork.

The Solution

The solution to all today's medical problems is to get government out of health care.

At a minimum we need to:

  1. End Medicare, so that seniors and everyone else can have low-cost health care again, as well as access to all treatments and tests a doctor thinks advisable.

  2. End Medicaid, to stop the senseless waste of money by corrupt state medical agencies.

  3. End the federal regulation that has driven so many charity hospitals and free clinics out of business.

  4. Repeal all the state and federal laws that tell insurance companies what benefits to include in their policies.

  5. Make all medical expenses deductible on your income tax return, so your employer can raise your salary instead of providing insurance coverage letting you choose the health care system most appropriate for you, deducting the cost directly from your income tax.

These are the kinds of solutions that show real compassion for the sick and the vulnerable.

And that's why no politician is proposing them.