Healthcare Reform: Why Not Try Ownership?

America does not face a healthcare crisis. America faces a manageable challenge: how to help a relatively small share of the population purchase health insurance. ObamaCare is too big a solution chasing too small a problem — like hunting quail with a howitzer.

Rather than endorse such big-government overkill, pro-freedom members of Congress should promote a simple concept: Let every American own and control an individual health insurance policy that can be transported among jobs, self-employment, graduate school, and life’s other twists and turns.

ObamaCare is propelled by the oft-repeated Census Bureau statistic that 45.7 million Americans lack health insurance. Even if that number were accurate, why should Washington turn the healthcare industry upside down for all 300 million Americans in order to help 45.7 million? In fact, as Pacific Research Institute president Sally Pipes demonstrates, public policy should concentrate on a far smaller group of hard cases.

From those 45.7 million uninsured, subtract 17.5 million who earn more than $50,000 annually. Though they can afford coverage, they evidently have other priorities. Of the remaining 28.2 million uninsured, some 14 million are eligible for, yet have not enrolled in, the Medicaid and S-CHIP programs. Meanwhile, as many as 10 million uninsured may be illegal aliens. All told, Pipes estimates that only about 8 million Americans are uninsured due to chronic illness or working-poor status. The latter have incomes too high for assistance and too low for insurance.

Why not help these 8 million rather than overturn medicine for all 300 million of us?

There is no need for a gargantuan health plan that spends $1.5 trillion — as the Congressional Budget Office estimates House Democrats want — nor for the 29 new federal boards, panels, and agencies that Senate Democrats envision. As for creating a “government option” for health insurance, why not create a government option for grocery stores and clothing shops, lest famine and nudity erupt across the land?

What Americans need is a thriving market in individually owned and controlled health insurance plans. When you book an airline flight, does not ask, “What is your group number?” You decide when and where to fly, and then buy your ticket. At least with personal travel, your boss does not fund this. The same is true for car insurance, home insurance, and often life insurance. Why must Americans shop for health insurance at work, rather than online or through independent agents?

Healthcare reform should give Americans the option of using money tax-free to purchase whatever kinds of health insurance make them happy. If employers offer such plans, lovely. If not, individuals should be encouraged, through tax-free Health Savings Accounts, to buy their own policies and maintain them throughout their careers. This dramatically would reduce the tragedy of “job lock,” whereby employees put up with bosses and duties they cannot stand, merely to keep employer-furnished health coverage.

As Rep. John Shadegg (R – Arizona) has argued, Americans also should be free to buy health plans across state lines. Today, such policies usually must be purchased within consumers’ own respective states, subject to state-level insurance regulations. If New York residents may arrange home loans through Illinois-based banks, for example, why are we only allowed to buy health plans through insurers who operate in the Empire State?  

Republicans and thinking Democrats should oppose ObamaCare and the new playground it builds for bureaucrats. Moreover, Americans for Tax Reform calculates that the House bill’s surtaxes create a 25 percent top capital-gains-tax rate and a 45 percent top income-tax rate. That is exactly the wrong prescription for an economy already wheezing beneath the weight of taxes, mandates, staggering federal debt, runaway expenditures, and nationalization.

ObamaCare’s foes should take this sad song and make it better. Selling the core conservative messages of ownership, choice, and patient freedom is the best way to defeat ObamaCare and lay the foundation for real reforms that will make American medicine healthier, not sicker.