Michael Moore's new movie SICKO is a serious look at the state of U.S. healthcare, but it promotes a solution (government healthcare) that would only make matters worse. Instead of more bureaucracy and government control, we should be encouraging competition among healthcare providers and personal responsibility among consumers. Health savings accounts will do just that, and are the future of healthcare in America.
Many people believe that a government take-over of healthcare coverage, called a "single-payer" system, is the answer. But if one simply looks at the countries that currently have single-payer systems, it is quite apparent that they are failed systems, with the citizens of these countries clamoring for change. Because demand goes up when prices go down, the only way a government that provides "free" healthcare can control cost is by limiting access. So citizens in countries with single-payer systems always suffer long waits and lack of access to medical care and technologies. For instance, in Canada there are currently over 800,000 people on waiting lists for medical procedures. The wait time for people who are referred for surgery is very long and can sometimes take over six months! If it weren't for the fact that thousands of Canadians come to the U.
S. each year for treatment, the average wait times would be even longer. Per capita, Canada only has 20% the number of MRIs that the U.S. has, and only 14% as many CAT Scans.
There are hundreds of prescription drugs available in the U.S. that are not yet available in Canada as they try to control costs. The situation in Britain is no better, with over 1 million people currently on waiting lists.
In June Britain's Health Department found that 13% of patients wait over a year for scheduled surgery, and shortages are forcing more than 50,000 operations to be cancelled each year. Waiting for surgery is not just an inconvenience; it can mean the difference between living and dying. For instance, in the U.S. the survival rate for stage 1 colon cancer is 90%; in Britain it is 70%. American women diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer have a 97% survival rate after 5 years; in Britain it's only 78%.
As Americans contemplate copying these failed systems, citizens in Europe and Canada are headed in the opposite direction. Germany just recently passed laws to enhance insurance competition, Sweden has begun privatizing some of its healthcare, and millions of Europeans are finding ways to opt-out of their government healthcare systems. In Britain there are now over 6.5 million people who carry private insurance, despite the availability of "free" coverage from their NHS. Another 250,000 self-fund each year for private surgery because they can not, or are not willing to wait. Even the Labour party now favors privatization of healthcare in Britain.
In 2005 the Canadian Supreme court issued a ruling which stated, "The prohibition on obtaining private health insurance. is not constitutional where the public system fails to deliver reasonable services." Private healthcare clinics are now opening in Canada at the rate of five per month. Unfortunately, under a socialized system, your body and your life are no longer under your control. Isn't it amazing that some of the same people who criticize government ineptness - including Katrina, the many screw-ups in the war on terror, No Child Left Behind, and more - actually think the government would do a good job managing the nation's healthcare? Freedom, choice, and innovation are what have given us the highest quality healthcare in the world. We absolutely do need change, but the answer is less government intervention, not more.
By encouraging consumer-driven solutions, competition, and price transparency, we can help avoid the healthcare disaster that government control would bring. One big part of the solution that is already beginning is the adoption of Health Savings Accounts. Over five million Americans already have an HSA set up, and over five billion dollars is already invested in these special bank accounts.
People who have an HSA can set aside money to pay for future medical expenses, and get a tax deduction to do so. Because you must have a high-deductible health plan to contribute to an HSA, these plans encourage people to more carefully spend their healthcare dollars, since money they don't spend stays in the HSA. The result is that medical providers once again are competing for customers by lowering prices, and increasing quality and convenience. Already we are seeing plummeting prices on prescription drugs, and low-cost medical clinics spring up in Wal-Mart and other retail locations.
As more and more people obtain HSAs, we will not only see a benefit for the consumers, but we will also begin to see more people who take a proactive attitude when it comes to their health. A Health Savings Account owner who exercises and eats right will likely have a much larger balance in their account by the time they retire. These changes will result in a healthier and wealthier group of retirees and a smaller burden on our tax system in the future.
By Wiley Long - President, HSA for America (http://www.health--savings--accounts.com ) - The nation's leading independent health insurance firm specializing in Health Savings Accounts.