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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

Renew Milton Friedman's Conservatism
Newt Gingrich, AEI Online, 12-4-06

Gingrich calls for the application of free market capitalism to the "center of the health care system" by empowering consumers and creating a single national market for health insurance.

We need to put the consumer at the center of the health–care system, just as we do in every other market. And the surest way to do this is by creating a national market to purchase health insurance.

Current state and federal laws permit consumers to buy only those health–insurance plans that have been approved in their own state, meaning it is illegal for a citizen of one state to buy insurance in another. These government barriers to free trade stifle competition, producing disastrous results: The absence of robust competition artificially inflates the cost of insurance, preventing millions of citizens from purchasing affordable coverage, and thus shifting the burden of care to those who do pay for insurance and into government programs.

To reverse this, government must allow competition to flourish. More competition among insurers in a national market will encourage more creative products, better services and lower prices—just as it always does wherever competition thrives—and every American will be able to find affordable coverage. The Health Choice Act, which was introduced by Representative John Shadegg of Arizona, will go a long way toward creating a rational, working market in health care.

A vital part of this rational market is the availability of information. Information on performance, cost, and quality allows consumers to make informed decisions, but health care is perhaps the only market in which consumers have virtually no access to this information. When Americans shop for a new car, home, or thousands of other items, they quickly and easily gather information on cost and quality from an endless array of resources. But in health care, consumers are blind. Try finding out how a doctor stacks up against his colleagues. Try finding out how much a hospital charges for an elective surgery. Try finding out which surgical team has the lowest mortality rate.

Americans have a right to know this information, and the data that can best inform us is Medicare–claims history. Medicare has detailed information on nearly every doctor and hospital in the country, which can be analyzed to identify the most efficient hospitals, best doctors and most effective treatments. The federal government also has information on disciplinary action and lawsuits filed against doctors, collected for the National Practitioner Data Bank. Inexplicably and inexcusably, the federal government will not release this data, despite growing demand from many health plans, employers, consumers, and researchers. This information will save lives and save money now. Americans have a right to know this information, and taxpayers must continue to demand its release.

Good education and a healthy citizenry are—and will always be—the keys to a prosperous civilization. We must tend to both needs to ensure our survival as the greatest nation on earth. Friedman was right: The only way to do this is to allow markets to work. A fitting tribute to him—and our country—would be a new generation of leaders who see intrusive government as part of our problems and markets as part of the solutions. By applying the conservative, market–based solutions that Milton Friedman so passionately and eloquently advocated, we will undoubtedly bring about real change and build a brighter future for America.



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