LANCASTER — As a doctor, one of the biggest problems facing the country is the absurd cost of health care. This perennial problem must finally be resolved by Congress before it wreaks further havoc on American pocketbooks and public health. A recent analysis by Kaiser Health News found that a staggering 100 million Americans have medical debt.
I can say firsthand that the basic costs of routine health care are not that expensive. Unfortunately, countless third parties, led by health insurance bureaucrats and government regulators, are driving up patients’ bills. Physician reimbursements from insurance companies have actually declined in many cases, adjusted for inflation, while insurers are making record profits.
My patients face relentless increases in their insurance premiums and deductibles with seemingly no additional benefits. Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that the average annual employer-sponsored family health premium that businesses and employees typically share rose to $22,463 this year. Experts predict that these costs will rise even more in the coming year.
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What can the new Congress do? Finally, the root causes of these high costs must be addressed, not just the symptoms. (For the latest example of the latter approach, see this summer’s so-called Deflation Act, which sent $64 billion in taxpayer funds to extend the expanded Obamacare subsidies that normally allow insurers to raise prices.)
It is now often cheaper for patients to pay directly for routine care than to file an insurance claim. That makes sense. Just like we don’t file an insurance claim when we service our car, we shouldn’t for our basic medical needs.
The new Congress could support such lower-cost, market-based alternatives by easing rules on health savings accounts, which allow patients to save money tax-free to pay directly for their health care needs. I have been using an HSA for 15 years and thoroughly enjoy the flexibility and freedom it offers. My employees use the same plan and share my affinity for it.
Congress could also support initiatives to increase price transparency to allow patients to shop around for the best price. Finally, it could deregulate low-cost catastrophic health insurance plans that patients could combine with direct medical care to dramatically reduce their health care costs.
Such reforms strike at the roots of the nation’s health care spending crisis, not just the weeds that grow out of them.
In addition to being a physician, I am also a small business owner experiencing the many significant headwinds that many of the nation’s entrepreneurs face. I’ll name just two: outrageous energy costs and tax uncertainty.
I expect my clinic’s electric and heating bills to be about 50% higher this winter than last. These energy bills are a major incoming expense that we have no choice but to pass on to our patients. The new Congress should support increased domestic energy production to reduce these costs. Why should the US be asking Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to produce more oil when we can do it at home and enjoy the economic benefits that come with it?
Finally, the small business tax breaks associated with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017 begin to expire next year. These tax cuts allow ordinary small businesses like mine to keep a little more of their revenue in our communities, helping us hire, expand and raise employee wages. The new Congress should prioritize making these tax breaks permanent so that small businesses can enjoy a modicum of financial security in these uncertain times.
The Jobs Network, a small business advocacy organization, includes these health care, energy and tax cut solutions in its recently introduced Plan for America’s Small Business Prosperity. The new Congress should use this bipartisan eight-point platform as a guide to overcoming the nation’s greatest challenges and accelerating economic growth. No time to waste.
Stader is co-owner of High Point Family Medicine in Lancaster and a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.