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MBJ Editorial

What is the bottom line when it comes to paying for health care? Do we focus on market-driven economics or socialized compassion? Or might we find common ground between these two extremes?

Last week, a number of incidents, both in Mississippi and on a national level, pushed us deeper into the great mess that health care has become in this country.

In Congress, a bill is winding its way to the President’s desk which would restore funding slashed by the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997. In recent issues, the Mississippi Business Journal has taken a long, hard look at the BBA’s impact on Mississippians’ health care options. This week, we examine the problems ambulance service providers have encountered. It is not encouraging. However, what if some health care funding is restored by Congress? Where does that leave the patients, the doctors, the hospitals and the small businesses struggling to provide a semblance of health care coverage? Still struggling.

UnitedHealth, the nation’s second-largest health care insurance company, announced last week that it will now give doctors – not administrators – the final word on treatment. Sounds good and makes sense, right? But, is it really nothing more than a public relations move designed to deflect public criticism from insurance companies and HMOs and derail the growing movement for a Patients Bill of Rights? Ultimately, insurers might say that doctors have the final authority on patient care, but those insurers will still be able to put the squeeze on doctors and quietly dictate what treatments and tests are authorized – and paid for.

In Mississippi, news came Wednesday that Access Health Systems, the parent company of Ridgeland-based Mississippi Managed Care Network, had filed an exit plan with the Mississippi Insurance Department. A spokesperson for Access told The Clarion-Ledger that “Managed care works in more sophisticated states but not in the state of Mississippi.” In the past, HMOs have lamented the state’s demographics as a hindrance to profitably doing business here. Companies have said the state is too rural for managed care to work as it has in areas where there is significant population density. So where does that leave thousands of patients? Anxiously wondering and that’s a very bad place to be when you’re sick.

How do we pay for health care? How do we decide who receives treatment and who doesn’t? These questions are shaping one of the greatest public policy debates in history: the “right” to health care.

The business community must play an active role in this debate. Ignorance and indecision have the potential to cripple economic growth or leave millions vulnerable to disease and untimely death.

Reasonable debate and discussion, along with a healthy dose of courage to do the right thing, will lead us to the answers we need. Make sure that you are part of this process.

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