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Radical notions on healthcare coverage might hold promise

As I See It

I was eating breakfast out a few weeks ago when I overheard the waitress, a friendly, late middle-aged woman, ask a younger woman, whom I concluded was a supervisor, if she could have a word with her. She wanted to know when she would be eligible for health insurance coverage.

Apparently, the business has a 90-day waiting period before new employees are put on the group health insurance plan and, having satisfied the time requirement, she was anxious to get the process in motion.

Healthcare, both cost and access, should be one of the issues our presidential candidates are grappling with rather than debating 30-year-old military service records. The war in Iraq and the status of our economy are two other issues of great importance to the American people.

Why are the important issues of the campaign being drowned out by attack ads about whether John Kerry is a hero or a traitor and whether President Bush even knew where the Alabama Air National Guard meetings were held?

The answer is simple. The attack ads are emotion-charged and they divert attention away from the tough issues — like healthcare and the economy.

Is John Kerry’s Vietnam military record relevant? Only because his war-hero-turned-war-protester metamorphosis shows that his inclination to flip-flop is nothing new. His lackluster record in the U.S. Senate is fairer game and will continue to haunt him throughout the coming days.

George Bush has never claimed to having been anything but a party boy in his younger days and military reserve meetings aren’t much fun. Had I been the son of a rich, influential family I might have been tempted to avoid the draft myself.

However, since I wasn’t, I didn’t. I served two years in the Army and came home and went to work. I didn’t get any Purple Hearts, though I did suffer several paper cuts that met the requisite test of drawing blood.

What about healthcare? This is an issue that isn’t going away. The wealthy can afford healthcare; the elderly have Medicare, the poor have the Medicaid program and the “working poor” have their accounts written-off by the hospitals that are legally required to serve sick folks regardless of their ability, or intention, to pay the bill.

What about the rest of us? We’re in a pickle; that’s where we are. Family coverage on our health insurance policy costs over $1,100 a month and is clearly unaffordable for many people. Particularly hard hit are young people just beginning a family and career.

Debating who caused our healthcare predicament is a subject for another day. Things are the way they are, and we have to play the hand of cards we’re dealt.
And, what hand have we been dealt? What is the American attitude about healthcare? Well, here’s a radical thought. Maybe access to healthcare is now a right of American citizenship.

Think about it. Our society has decided that oldsters and the poor are entitled to healthcare at taxpayer expense. Medicare beneficiaries will argue that they paid taxes and therefore are now receiving their just rewards from years of taxation. Bunk. Many retirees receive more in health benefits each and every year than they paid in Medicare taxes over their entire lifetime. Thus, in fact, the taxpayers are footing the lion’s share of the cost of Medicare.

For those of us who must provide our own health insurance, the future is dismal indeed. If the 12% to 15% annual increases in health insurance premiums continue, we will reach the point that we merely endorse our paychecks over to the insurance companies and scavenge in dumpsters for something to eat. Obviously, this situation has got to change.
Is socialized medicine the answer? Emphatically, no! Government at all levels is the most inefficient organization on the face of the earth and should only be charged with doing those things the private sector absolutely cannot provide.

Dispensing healthcare is an art and a science and there’s no place in that arena for more bureaucrats. However, middle-income taxpayers might as well enjoy a government healthcare subsidy since they’re paying for everybody else’s.

Part of any solution to the healthcare debacle should promote consumerism. People who have something to gain financially from lower healthcare costs will put downward pressure on prices whereas those whose bills are paid by insurance or government couldn’t care less how much their treatment costs.

In furtherance of that premise, I would like to see the entire healthcare system revamped on the medical savings account model, including Medicare and Medicaid. Everybody would get an annual allotment for healthcare and whatever a person didn’t spend would be carried over to future years, spent or become available for retirement funding. People would then have incentive to minimize the cost of healthcare and we would undoubtedly see a significant reduction in prices.

The free-market economy could solve the rising cost of healthcare by putting a financial curb chain on the bit of free spending medical providers.

The taxpayers are footing the healthcare bill for many who, like the elderly, the poor and the so-called working poor, don’t pay taxes. If they have the right to healthcare furnished by the taxpayers, maybe the taxpayers themselves ought to have the same right.

A radical idea whose time may not have come, but something’s got to be done if middle-income Americans are going to enjoy the benefits of good healthcare and avoid competing with the rats for leftovers.

Thought for the Moment —
Life is facing challenges, going through them, and getting to the other side. — Football player D.D. Lewis

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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