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Government meddling behind care debacle

As I See It

Hospitals, particularly in rural areas, are suffering under the cuts mandated by the Balanced Budget Act. Services at some hospitals have been curtailed, and at least one rural hospital in Mississippi has been closed completely.

2000 promises further increases in health insurance costs. Substantial, annual increases in health care costs have become the norm, and with each increase employers find it harder and harder to provide health coverage for their employees.

The Congress seems destined to pass some sort of “Patient Bill of Rights.” The end result of this legislation will be lawsuits against HMOs who will dutifully pass that cost along to their members. Many Republicans and business leaders have opposed such legislation, saying it would raise costs and further reduce the number of Americans covered under health insurance.

The plight of the uninsured is emerging as a major issue in the 2000 Presidential campaign. Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley is promoting universal health insurance coverage at an estimated annual cost of between $65 billion and $120 billion, depending on whose numbers you believe.

As the government pushes harder and harder to tinker with health care access, more and more Americans are finding themselves uninsured. How can this be? Is there a lesson here?

The number of Americans without health insurance rose last year by 833,000 to 44.3 million, despite a strong economy and a new law intended to provide coverage for children. The ranks of the uninsured have grown by more than 4.5 million since President Clinton took office in 1993, promising health insurance for everyone.

In 1994, President Clinton’s effort to enact comprehensive health care failed. Since that time, several laws have been passed which were intended to expand coverage to the masses. The effectiveness of these laws is questionable in the face of increasing numbers of uninsured people.

The Census Bureau said 16.3% of Americans did not have health insurance last year. That figure, the highest in a decade, was up slightly from 16.1% in 1997. This is surprising because the economy was robust, family income was up, the unemployment rate low and employers were competing for workers all over the country.

Some employers have cut health benefits for their employees and their dependents as costs have continued to escalate. Many employers still offer coverage, but require employees to pay some, or all, of the cost. Many lower-income workers have opted out of insurance programs. Likewise, many people leaving welfare to join the workforce have lost Medicaid coverage without getting any insurance to replace it.

Analysis of these statistics clearly indicates that the government is a prime villain in the health care debacle. It is clear to me that the more government is involved in the private sector, the worse the situation gets. Government is the most inefficient creature on the face of the earth. Its involvement in our lives should be minimal. The government’s grand social experiment over the last 30 years has created a devastating attitude of dependency across the board.

Caring about people does not mean that you must do everything for them. Otherwise, children would never learn to function in society independently. The more government involves itself in the health care arena, the more people become convinced that government is a necessary ingredient to our receiving adequate health care. Such is not the case.

If government would concede defeat and bow out of the health care business and dismantle the attendant bureaucracy, taxes could be cut to the point that health care would be affordable to everyone. Otherwise, we can expect continuing increases in health care cost and increased bureaucratic hurdles to accessing health care.

THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.

– Ursula K. Le Guin

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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