Unleash health insurance market to ease costs for consumers, firms - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Unleash health insurance market to ease costs for consumers, firms

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Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2004 9:22 pm | Updated: 4:54 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

With the number of Americans without health coverage growing, calls are getting louder for government to “step in” and fill the gap. Actually, if government would just step back, the coverage gap would shrink.

Karen Kerrigan, chairman of the Small Business Survival Committee, helps explain why elsewhere on these pages. Her organization has been lobbying for years to reverse the governmental meddling at all levels that has made it more and more expensive for businesses to provide health benefits for their workers.

While businesses aren't required by law to provide health coverage, those that do are facing escalating costs due in large part to mandates that policies include an ever expanding array of services that not all employees want or need.

Arizona is no exception. Over the years, the Legislature has required companies that offer health benefits to their employees to provide a broad range of services including chiropractic, optical, psychological and physical therapy. The mandates are concessions to various medical interest groups, including registered nurses, nurse practitioners, drug companies and medical supply firms, that spend large sums of money lobbying lawmakers.

Kerrigan makes a persuasive case for a freer market in health coverage, with employees and employers having more options. Just as companies have the option of offering no coverage for their employees, they should have the option of offering plans of their own choosing that they believe would keep their workers healthy and productive. Employees, in turn, should be free to sign up for their company's plan, or to choose a plan on their own.

A freer health care marketplace would be aided immeasurably by providing tax deductions or credits to cover some of the cost of premiums. Individuals also should be allowed to join health coverage purchasing pools that would have the clout to negotiate group discounts on premiums.

These kinds of freedoms are taken for granted in other areas of American life. Consumers are in the best position to protect their own interests by choosing products and services that fit their own and family members' needs and wants. While consumers do need government protection against fraud, they don't need a bunch of barriers to free choice and unnecessary mandates that drive up costs.

It's time to pull down the barriers and mandates. U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., has been fighting for years in Congress to do just that, but the special interests that profit from the mountain of mandates have bitterly opposed his reforms, claiming all sorts of horrors would befall Americans if we had the freedom to buy coverage of our choosing.

Voters should reject such rubbish and look for candidates this year who support a freer health-coverage marketplace. That's what it will take to finally spark action on Shadegg's excellent reforms.

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