Increasing Frustration

By Marcy Zwelling Aamot, MD

Americans’ frustrations are increasing. While we were promised that the cost of healthcare would soon stop its upward trajectory, we have yet to see any evidence of anything of the sort.  My individual premium is going up every year while my co-pays also go up.  Every business person with whom I speak complains about their healthcare costs and that includes the deans of our university where their health care costs are consuming so many dollars, they are starting to cut classes and decrease opportunities offered students.

The debate continues in Washington, DC and the promises are coming a mile a minute right along with the threat that we are all going to have to “take it in the shorts” one way or the other.  I wonder if individual Americans wouldn’t be better off managing our own healthcare demands rather than leaving things in the hands of the government or the insurance companies that have not earned our trust or our respect.  The latest budget debate and near closing down of the government assures me that things would be better in the hands of the average American.  We seem to appreciate the value of a dollar and understand value much better than our elected officials.

The solution is really quite simple.

1) We need transparency in health care.  How can we even start to manage our dollars without knowing the cost of care?  Every medical facility and establishment should be require to post their retail cash prices.  This costs nothing and at least starts to bring some honesty to the discussion.  We can start that today by asking our city councils to demand that every medical facility business license require the posting of  retail prices. You may be surprised to find that a mammogram costs less than $100.00 and yearly lab can be purchased for less than $50.00 cash.  Those who use their insurance and pay their deductible know that the cost is goes up when the payment for services is circuitous through insurers or the government.

2) Congress should require every insurer and itself (including Medicare) to sell a catastrophic only health care insurance plan that is actuarially based and open to all patients including those with pre-existing conditions.  The premium for this policy would be affordable and available to all.  Community rating does NOT apply. Patients must be charged the actuarial value of the policy but it should be available to all.  Surely, that person with hypertension will pay some additional cost but smart insurers will find a way to attract those patients by offering them a reduced rate for proof of adequate medical treatment.  This also puts patients in charge of their own healthcare.  As it is, there are many “pay for performance” opportunities for doctors but they have all failed because they have not offered incentives to the right person.  It is always the patient who should reap the benefit of his or her investment in their health.

A free market is the only way to bring competition back into the medical care marketplace and healthy competition drives innovation and excellence.  The current fixed pricing system offered by Medicare and health insurers has taken away opportunities afforded by human nature, our competitive spirit and drive.  The cost drivers are all the middle-men and regulations imposed on what should be a transparent and open marketplace.

In the end we want a healthcare delivery system where the patients can be empowered to be responsible for their own health and life investments.  Doctors need to direct our care to our patient’s specific individual needs and we must be answerable to that person in our exam room, not the government or an insurance company.  History has taught us that with freedom of self-determination, America will always find its way to excellence.  Why can’t we assume the same in the healthcare market place.

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