Health care ideas that aren’t a big takeover

Published 8:40 am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Congress and the president recently passed a gigantic health care bill that is going to cost us somewhere between $900 billion and $2 trillion. It will raise the cost on everyone who currently has health insurance, and it is believed by many that it will decrease medical care for many, especially seniors. Let’s look at an example of why our system is so costly.

My brother, Rich, is a miracle in our family. He is 85 years old and the first Arends male to ever reach 80. He has had a few bumps along the way, like heart surgery where he was in intensive care 10 days. He had three bypasses and four stints. He also has had two carotid artery surgeries and been in the hospital three other times this past year. Either he is a miracle man or our doctors, hospitals, drug companies and Medicare are miracle systems. His care may have costs a $1 million or more, and, by the way, he is getting along really well.

Now why did I tell you all of those things? It’s because he is not unusual in today’s health care system. We as a society are going to have a lot of questions to answer. Let’s start asking those questions:

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1. Is Medicare broke and can we afford this type of care? It is estimated that the current trust fund will last seven more years. What will happen to our care for seniors when it runs out of money? Do we see Congress addressing that issue? Not really.

2. Can Congress take $500 billion out of Medicare without cutting health care to seniors? Anyone can answer that question. It will lead to rationing.

3. Are we preparing for 78 million more seniors coming into Medicare coverage within the next 5 years as the baby boomers retire? Of course, the answer is no. It is really going to make Medicare a bigger problem.

4. Are we going to begin paying doctors and hospitals their full fees when they treat Medicare patients? Today they receive about 92 cents for Medicare and 84 cents for Medicaid on every dollar they charge. Who picks up the slack on those charges? It’s all the citizens under 65 who get charged more because of the shortage coming from Medicare and Medicaid. That means seniors and the economical poor are the problem, and Congress is trying to blame health insurance companies and the young for our health problems. We know there are areas in this country where doctors and hospitals will not accept more Medicare patients.

Now, when I was telling you about my brother, Rich, I neglected to tell you that he is 30 to 40 pounds overweight. He loves his ice cream! He was a truck driver for many years, and it was difficult for him to get much physical exercise. With a population in this country that is rampant with diabetes and where over 50 percent are considered overweight, it is very evident that we are going to have excessive health problems. We even have a president who continues to smoke when he knows how harmful tobacco is.

So what are the solutions and why didn’t Congress address these issues? You must realize these are my ideas and may only solve part of the problems.

1. We must have tort reform so doctors do not have to practice defensive medicine. Some claim this will save from 5 to 7 percent of our health care costs. This should be a slam dunk.

2. We have to reward people for healthy lifestyles. In other words, have risk-related health insurance that rewards people for not smoking, not drinking, controlling their weight and who exercise regularly. Why should people be penalized for living healthy lifestyles and pay for those who don’t?

3. We should take off many of the regulations that govern our health industry. Each state has its own regulations, plus there are federal regulations. This makes doing business very difficult and costly. Take the wraps off and let competition determine costs.

4. We should require all citizens in this country to have catastrophic health insurance with at least a $5,000 deductible policy. Reward healthy lifestyles with lower premiums, subsidize those who have pre-existing conditions that are not their fault and we should give assistance to those who are below the poverty income level.

5. We should encourage and give incentives for using health savings accounts. This rewards people for being good consumers of health care.

6. Finally, we are going to need more money infused into Medicare, not less. Seniors who have higher incomes already pay more for their Medicare coverage, but we are going to have to ask them to do more. We cannot keep increasing the burden on our children and grandchildren. For a period of 12 years, until we overcome the Medicare deficiency, we should assess a 2 percent fee on incomes over $30,000 and increase it by 1 percent as income doubles over $30,000 until it reaches 8 percent. This may be the only way to keep senior care afloat.

We also may have to begin drawing Medicare at 70 years of age instead of 65.

Would these ideas work? I am not sure, but I do not think there are many of us that want a 2,700-page bill that even Congress does not understand and that the Congressional Budget Office cannot accurately project. Let’s attack the main problem Medicare and Medicaid, by preserving what we have and gradually make the changes that will make it affordable without the inefficiency of another government run program.

These ideas may not be what we want to hear, but they are my point of view and it is not a big takeover of the health industry by our government.

Albert Lea resident Alan Arends is the co-chairman of the Freeborn County Republican Party.