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by Ian Tartt
Healthcare is a hot topic in the US. Nearly everyone recognizes that it’s in need of a major overhaul, but can’t seem to agree on how that overhaul should look. This article will examine some of the problems with US healthcare and offer solutions for fixing it. If the politicians would adopt even a few of these measures, then healthcare would become more affordable for everyone.
1. Reform Health Insurance
Many people think that health insurance should cover most or even all of their medical expenses. But is that the purpose of insurance, or should it be the purpose? After all, car insurance doesn’t cover every oil change, tire rotation, or fill-up, and almost nobody thinks that it should. Most people recognize that car insurance is reserved for unforeseen catastrophic events. Yet so many think that health insurance should cover every doctor’s visit, prescription drug, and medical device. Changing that mindset, part of which involves making healthcare more affordable (more on how to accomplish that later), is a necessary factor in reforming health insurance.
Something that’s already being done that can help with changing that mindset is healthcare providers bypassing insurance altogether and accepting payments in cash. Because insurance companies have access to so much money, having insurance as a middleman offers no incentive for healthcare providers to negotiate for lower prices. Getting insurance out of the way as much as possible and returning it to its proper role as emergency coverage will incentivize providers to cut costs and lower prices wherever they can.
Rather than fixing existing problems, the Affordable Care Act has made an even bigger mess by getting insurance more involved in healthcare. In addition to costing jobs (especially for small businesses), it has also caused many people to have to pay enormous premiums or resulted in them losing their insurance altogether. Proponents of the plan will point to those who’ve benefited since it went into effect while almost always ignoring those who have been harmed by it. For the harm it’s done as part of even more government intervention into healthcare (more on that later in this article), the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.
2. Change Drug Policy
There are many things to change as far as drug policy is concerned, but the first change should be to end the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has been an enormous waste of human lives and resources. Drug prohibition, just like alcohol prohibition, has not stopped people from obtaining or abusing drugs; it has resulted in an increase in violent crime. Countless people whose only crime was the use, possession, or sale of prohibited substances have been locked up. Violent criminals have been released to make room for all the peaceful drug users. People who’ve never done anything with illegal drugs get shot and killed when police show up at the wrong house. This has all come at an outrageous cost to the American people.
With all that in mind, what would happen if the War on Drugs were ended? For one thing, taxpayers would no longer have to fund an expensive government program that’s hurt countless people and failed to accomplish any of its stated goals. They would then be able to keep the money that’s currently being taken from them to support drug prohibition and use it instead to take care of themselves and their loved ones. They could use that money to shop for better insurance policies, save it for a rainy day, or invest in a healthier lifestyle. Violent crime would go down, drugs could be held to higher standards for quality so fewer people would get sick or die from using them, anyone could use any drug they find helpful for medical purposes without fear of criminal penalties, and drug users who want to quit would be able to seek effective treatment. All of this will make many people less likely to need healthcare in the first place.
Many people were upset at the rising price of EpiPen over the last several years. In response, information about a generic version was spread to help increase awareness of a low-cost alternative. In this case, that helped people who couldn’t afford EpiPen get what they needed. But what would they have done if that hadn’t happened? The problem ultimately boils down to a lack of competition.
The FDA, which many think of as protecting us from harmful substances, actually hurts a lot of people and plays a role in restricting competition. To get a new drug approved takes on average 12 years and costs over $2 billion. Due to the high costs and complexity of the process, some drugs are never approved at all. In some cases, the FDA is slow to approve drugs that have already been approved in other countries, if it approves them at all.
Additionally, smaller companies have a much harder time meeting the FDA’s requirements and are more likely to fail than larger companies with more resources. Nobody should have to suffer or die because the burdensome requirements of the FDA delayed or entirely prevented a drug from hitting the market. If someone thinks a drug would help them in some way, whether that comes in the form of pain relief or goes as far as saving their life, how cruel is it to prevent them from trying it? Unless barriers to entry are lowered and the role of the FDA is drastically changed (one possible change could be to make it into a review board rather than an approval board), drug prices will remain high, innovation will be stifled, and the playing field will be tilted in favor of those with more resources.
3. Reduce Government
The final part of this article will focus on two separate but related steps: reducing the government’s role in healthcare and reducing government as a whole. Doing both will help lower healthcare costs, expand options, and ultimately make life better for everyone.
Over the past fifty years, healthcare costs have gone through the roof. This is largely because the federal government has greatly increased the demand for healthcare far faster than the supply can fulfill that demand. For any commodity, when demand increases substantially while supply doesn’t keep pace, prices go up. Medicare and Medicaid, two government programs created in 1965, have facilitated the rising costs of healthcare. Prior to these programs, healthcare costs kept pace with the Consumer Price Index. Since their introduction, costs have risen far faster. While it’s true that healthcare overall has improved and gotten more complex over time, the same can be said of electronic devices. Yet electronics, which have had far less government intervention than healthcare, cost much less now than they did decades ago despite being far more advanced than they used to be.
Further, as more government healthcare regulations have been added, healthcare providers have had to spend more time and money understanding and following those regulations; this ultimately leaves them with less time and fewer resources to help people in need. While healthcare in the US was not a pure free market service prior to the 1960’s, it was much closer to a free market than it’s been since. The increasing costs that have accompanied increasing government intervention demonstrate that the further away from a free market in healthcare, the higher healthcare costs will be.
But what will happen to people who can’t afford healthcare even in a free market? Contrary to the conventional narrative that poor people simply died out before government welfare programs, people formed communities and took care of each other. They did this very effectively through mutual-aid societies, which were voluntary organizations by which members provided each other with health insurance, unemployment relief, children’s schools, and other benefits. Most people are unfamiliar with this concept nowadays; increasing government welfare programs, as well as regulations which squeezed out mutual-aid societies, are to blame for the decline in community-based aid. As a result, people over time have looked to the government for assistance instead of looking to their family members, friends, and neighbors. So if more government has resulted in fewer people helping each other, then less government will reverse that trend.
Private charity is also a way to help those in need. A well-known example of a charity-run medical organization is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Americans are incredibly generous about helping people in need. In the US, total charitable giving in 2016 was $390.05 billion. Imagine how much more people would give if the income tax were eliminated so they got to keep their entire paychecks, could start businesses more easily because of the removal of excessive and needless regulations, and didn’t have the purchasing power of their money drained through continuous inflation. There would likely be far fewer poor people in the first place if these changes were made, and those who still needed help would find it in abundance.