Tuesday night, President Barack Obama called for passing health care reform this year.
Certainly, there is widespread agreement that health care needs to be reformed. It costs too much. Too many people lack health insurance. And quality, while the highest in the world, is too often uneven.
But how does President Obama plan to expand coverage, increase covered treatments and control costs - all at the same time? The wrong answer is likely to mean fewer choices for patients, decreased quality of care and an increased burden on American taxpayers. And while Mr. Obama gave us no details Tuesday, the direction that he appears to be taking is extremely troublesome.
From what we can determine so far, "Obamacare" will be based on four pillars: 1) mandates, both for employers and individuals; 2) subsidies for the middle class; 3) increased insurance regulation; and 4) a government-run health care plan, like Medicare, that will compete with private insurance. The result will be government control over one-seventh of the U.S. economy and some of the most important, personal and private decisions in our lives.
We know, from the failure of national health care systems around the world as well as the inefficiency, high cost and poor quality of government-run health care systems here at home (Veterans Affairs health care is a national disgrace, Medicaid provides poor quality at high cost, and Medicare has tens of trillions of dollars in projected unfunded liabilities) that that is not the type of health care reform that we need.
Real health care reform should empower health care consumers, not government bureaucrats. Today, too much of health care spending is controlled by the government, employers and insurance companies. Instead, we should return that money to individual families and workers. That would mean changing the tax treatment of health insurance so that individuals who buy their insurance can receive the same tax break as those who receive insurance through their employer. Also, we should allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines if they can find a less expensive policy.
President Obama is right. We need to reform health care. But not the way he wants to do it.
Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute. This article originally appeared on the institute's Web site. His e-mail is email@example.com.