Is there a free market solution to health care crisis?

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One Colorado Springs man believes he has the solution to the health care crisis — and it isn’t more government programs, subsidies or taxes.

In fact, Steve Hyde believes free markets can address the issues with costs and access.

His idea, outlined in the book, “Cured,” is to give people the money to buy their own insurance. Businesses would provide cash to employees to purchase insurance and the government would provide it to people in lower income brackets, instead of paying Medicare and Medicaid.

“Then you could take the money, and insurance companies would compete for your business,” he said. “The doctors would also compete for your business — and you could pick the best ones who offer high-quality service at the lowest price.”

Doctors do not compete with one another now, he said, and that leads to poor quality care. Insurance companies only compete in the large-group market.

Government does have a role in this plan: regulations would prohibit insurance companies from dumping sick people or charging more for pre-existing conditions.

“But if you are obese, hypertensive, hyperglycemic or you smoke, your premiums could be higher,” he said. “About 75 percent of what we treat now is preventable. If you charge people more, they are going to listen and take steps to improve their own health care. It’s hard — I know that — but people need to take some personal responsibility.”

Hyde spoke to about 70 people at the Limited Government Forum, a nonprofit group that holds monthly lunches to discuss political issues and encourage people to lobby for smaller government.

“The bill they are considering in the House is the single most egregious reform bill I’ve seen in 40 years,” Hyde said. “President (Barack) Obama is using up all his political capital for this reform bill, and it’s the same approach it’s always been — address the symptom without addressing the underlying problem. It doesn’t work.”

The bill will “decimate” private insurance companies, put tens of thousands of doctors out of work and send hospitals into bankruptcy.

“Government is going down the wrong road,” he said. “More government isn’t what we need.”

While admitting that the employer-based insurance market is a “natural market,” Hyde said the practice should be ended. An individual market with government regulation is the answer.

“The free market system can work with health care, with a few tweaks,” he said. “You have to have insurance regulations, but government doesn’t need to be in the business of delivering care.”

His plan gives consumers the power in the health care — much as they have in other areas of a free-market economy. People could find out which insurance company has the best plan at the best price.

“And this would be real insurance,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a co-pay or co-insurance. If you had a catastrophic illness, it would cover that. But it wouldn’t cover prevention.”

Hyde said preventive medicine doesn’t save money — it costs money. The endless routine tests for breast cancer, diabetes or heart disease, actually costs more money than they save, he said.

“Insurance did not always cover those kinds of tests,” he said. “It wasn’t until HMOs (health maintenance organizations) became popular that the tests were covered. They are too expensive to cover.”

But the White House said that issues faced by small businesses will be addressed through the bill, which provides an insurance exchange that allows companies to choose from many plans that offer better coverage at lower costs.

Small businesses would receive a tax credit to alleviate disproportionately higher costs and encourage coverage. The credit would be targeted to firms with employees whose average wages are below a certain threshold.

Obama seeks small biz input

President Barack Obama wants to know what small businesses think about health care reform — and is using new technology to do it.

Business owners can share challenges faced by small firms in the health insurance market, and the likely impacts of reform on small business at www.whitehouse.gov and through LinkedIn, a social networking community for professionals that has 12 million small business owners and employees as members.

The White House released a report showing that the health care system does not work for small businesses — imposing higher broker fees, fixed administrative costs and fewer choices.

Because of higher costs, the report says small businesses are less likely to provide health insurance for their workers than larger businesses. Only 49 percent of firms with three to nine workers, and 78 percent of firms with 10 to 24 workers offer any type of health insurance to their employees.

In contrast, 99 percent of firms with more than 200 workers offer health insurance.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.