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Leading policy-makers and scholars explain how market forces, deregulation, and consumer choice can work to improve health care for all Americans.

Commentary

Prescription for Healing Health Care
Thomas P. Hartnet, Buffalo News, 11-26-06

Hartnett offers a thoughtful overview of HSAs, and explains why consumer–driven health care will help consumers regain control over their health care spending.

Everyone knows that the health care system is broken. The question is what to do about it.

The answer is consumer–driven health care. The philosophy behind it is simple. When was the last time you bought something without knowing—or caring about—the cost and deciding whether the item or service was worth the price? When was the last time you knew or cared what a medical procedure cost?

A Harris Poll of consumers recently found that most can guess the price of a new Honda Accord within $300, but when asked to estimate the cost of a four–day hospital stay, those same consumers were off by $8,100.

It's as if health care were free for the patient, when in fact its cost is spiraling beyond affordability for the consumer. They are, of course, the same person. There is a disconnect between what we pay individually for health care and how we regard the health care system collectively as national policy.

"Health care is the one industry in which the purchasers actually have no idea what anything costs," wrote the Wall Street Journal last winter: "An individual market for health insurance would allow more freedom of choice, while making consumers more cost conscious."

The point is that health care costs turned their back on sanity because we allowed them to. They've become prohibitive to our employers and to us, yet we think nothing of scheduling another test, adding a medication, or seeing a third or fourth doctor about the same ailment.

The alternative is to control costs at the consumer level. This can be achieved relatively easily by using a combination of the following:

  • Health savings accounts (HSAs).
  • Inexpensive health insurance with high deductibles to pay for major operations or extended care.
  • Improved and increased information that educates and equips a consumer to get the best service and price in the marketplace.
  • Personally buying health care the way you would any service.


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