As I get organized to enter the 2018 Nebraska Republican Primary for U.S. Senate, I want to make it clear why I would challenge the apparently popular incumbent Senator Deb Fischer who is running for reelection. The reason is very simple and clear cut. The new tax law which she voted for will raise our national debt by $1 trillion over the next ten years and likely overheat our already vigorously growing economy in the process. In other words:
Our national debt, already sitting at 77% of GDP (for the public part on which we pay interest), is the highest it has been since right after WWII and already slated to get worse, even before the new tax law supported by Senator Fischer. When interest rates inevitably rise in the near future, interest payments on the debt will become a huge burden on our economy.
Controlling the cost of healthcare, which already eats up 18% of our GDP (and is growing much faster than GDP), is the key to shrinking our annual deficits and therefore being able to shrink our debt as well.
But is it possible to control healthcare costs within the framework of a free market? I think it is and here is one way to do it:
For private healthcare, repeal the employer mandate and replace the ACA income based tax credits with age based tax credits (which then apply to everyone). This will allow healthy employees to migrate away from employer provided health insurance towards individually underwritten health insurance (including Health Savings Accounts) at much lower cost. This saves money for employers and rewards healthy life styles. High risk pools for unhealthy people would receive federal and state subsidies.
Medicaid recipients would also be able to migrate into this new private system.
Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) would be required to offer Medical Savings Accounts which were authorized in 1997 but have not been widely utilized. This will make Medicare Advantage highly attractive to healthy people and encourage migration from regular Medicare (Part B) to Medicare Advantage.
Conclusion. The point here is not to try to insist on one particular way of controlling the cost of healthcare but to demonstrate that it can be done within a relatively free market framework.
In the May 5, 2013, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat “What Health Insurance Doesn’t Do”, discusses a recent Oregon Medicaid experiment which shows that the Medicaid program improves health outcomes only slightly even though it does help people avoid huge medical bills. As Mr. Douthat goes on to explain, the Oregon result offers a valuable suggestion for how to make American health care overall much more efficient and less costly.
The problem is that our health insurance system does not function like any other type of insurance. All other types of insurance such as for house or car protect only against actual disasters like a house burning down and not routine maintenance repairs which affect all of us on a regular basis. In other words, health insurance could and should be restricted to very expensive treatments such as for cancer, for example. Routine health problems, which affect everyone over a lifetime, even including end of life care, can and should be paid for with mechanisms such as health savings accounts, which can be rolled over from one year to the next.
A more elaborate discussion of the inefficiency of American health insurance, and how to fix it, is provided by David Goldhill in the NYT on February 17, 2013 “The Health Benefits that Cut Your Pay”, and also in his new book on health care referenced therein.
Clearly the cost of health care is a huge fiscal and economic issue for our country. Health care entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are the main drivers of the national debt. The rapidly growing cost of Medicaid is also a huge problem at the state level because it is crowding out support for other essential major programs such as education and infrastructure improvements. The cost of private health care paid by employers holds back wage gains and is a major factor in the growing income inequality in American society.
It is time for Americans to demand action on health care costs from our national political leaders. It is a problem which affects almost all of us and therefore should be amenable to a bipartisan solution in Congress. We need to get this message out much more strongly!