Americans should be allowed to decide their own health care plans

Stephen Ontko

Improvement in health care may be within reach, as the presidential election allows us to choose between substantive change for improving the health care market toward consumer choice, or feel-good rhetoric aimed more toward idealism than methodical improvement.

The current health care system is mainly based on employers covering their workers, whereby 160 million Americans receive employer-backed health insurance coverage, as CNN reported Jan. 23, 2007. Yet, the number of workers who receive their health care from their employers has been decreasing, from 75 percent 20 years ago to 59 percent today, Dr. David Gratzer wrote in a Wall Street Journal column Oct. 7.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign Web site focuses on “a plan that strengthens employer coverage,” and the candidate’s health care plan for “expanding eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs” for those who aren’t covered through their employer.

Sen. John McCain is fundamentally changing the health care issue, stating on his campaign Web site that “every family will receive a direct refundable tax credit” of “$2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families.” Hence, individual workers and their families are given these credits so they don’t have to rely on their employers for health insurance. McCain’s plan ushers in a new non-taxed freedom to purchase a health care plan that might better suit American consumers’ needs.

Not only is turning away from employer-based health care to individual-based health care better for dealing with health care coverage, this paradigm shift also has positive implications for the economy as a whole. As many as 20 to 30 percent of non-elderly men are afraid of leaving their undesired jobs because they don’t want to forego their health benefits, according to a study by University of Wisconsin economist Scott Adams and quoted in Gratzer’s column.

Giving workers greater mobility to leave their current workplace better enables them to increase their standard of living. Employers would then have to compete more for employees, given workers would be able to choose one that will grant the best compensation possible.

Under Obama’s plan, however, taxpayers will bear the burden of government control of health care when the candidate decides the only options for health care choice are employer and government sponsors.

Obama’s health care plan claims he will make “insurance companies accountable,” but he emphasizes competition for employers, not individuals or families themselves, among the insurance companies.

Merrill Matthews, in a column in the WSJ on Oct. 1, pointed out that a proposal by Republican Arizona Rep. John Shadegg, called the Health Care Choice Act, supported by McCain, would still keep state and federal regulations on health care insurance companies. The benefit, though, is that despite regulations, health care insurance providers will be subject to nationwide competition. This allows access to states who hold the best offers on health care to consumers who require the specific coverage needs that most pertain to them.

Many states employ mandates on all health care providers, requiring that certain treatments be covered. Mandating specific treatment in health care plans, however, may include treatments that might not be applicable to the purchasers of those plans, making them pay for something they don’t necessarily need. In addition to addressing specific concerns for individual consumers, eliminating state barriers to health care purchasing, which plague our current health care system, will decrease the cost of health care and bring health care into reach for more households. The Council for Affordable Health Insurance estimates anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the costs of health insurance are because of states’ regulations that require overburdening treatment mandates.

Health insurance that is more customizable is in reach for many Americans. That is why voters must demand the right to make the decisions on their own health care, as opposed to the government expanding already existing programs that will only force taxpayers to pay for government mandates for nonessential

covered treatment.

McCain wants you alone to decide your own health care. Obama wants your employer and government to continue to decide what health care you should have. Individual choice, however, better represents true American freedom.

Stephen Ontko is a senior economics major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].