Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mandatory Private Insurance - Why It's Stupid

The Washington Post has a very flattering article about Senator Baucus today. I am going to just focus on one sentence, though.

"Baucus is committed to delivering universal coverage and getting more and better care from health dollars, and he is seriously considering an individual mandate -- requiring adults to have health insurance -- and taxing employer-provided health insurance."

If he's considering an individual mandate, he is clearly not committed to getting more and better care from health dollars. This is very similar to McCain's proposal. Let's start with the setting. We have now about 50,000,000 people with no insurance, almost entirely because it is too expensive. We have tens of millions more people with inadequate insurance, who still go bankrupt if a major health complication occurs. We have companies offering less and less in the way of health benefits because prices are rising so much.

* Making health insurance mandatory for people who can't really afford it is going to require spending federal money on subsidies. It is flat out less efficient to give this federal money to private insurance companies with their high overhead than to just expand Medicare or Medicaid. This is just Congress's way of unnecessarily giving our tax dollars to insurance company stakeholders as a "thank you" for all the campaign contributions.

* Individual insurance customers have no negotiating leverage. Large employers get discounts on insurance prices because they can pool risk and threaten to take their big group contract to a competing insurer. Individuals can't negotiate to reduce insurer's profits, so they get gouged. Unless the government is going to really meddle with private insurance rates and practices, making private insurance mandatory is going to lead to an even higher percentage of health dollars going to profits instead of care. Depending on how the subsidies are worked out, this will either unnecessarily hurt the lower class, unnecessarily rip off taxpayers, or both.

* We will still have huge problems with underinsurance. Even with subsidies, even when it's mandatory, consumers with lower incomes are going to get the insurance plans with the lowest premiums. These plans may have high copays, high deductables, and poor coverage. We are still going to see bankruptcies due to medical costs. Unless the government meddles extensively with what insurance plans are offered, but that doesn't seem to be on the table.

* Regarding taxing health insurance from employers, that will result in a further reduction of coverage by employers, higher costs to individuals, poorer coverage overall, and further weakening of our ability to compete in the global market. What would eliminate all of these problems is a public, single-payer option, which would reduce everyone's costs, increase coverage, and let our industries be more competitive.

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