House Republicans are celebrating their first major victory since taking control of the chamber on Jan. 5: repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
I suppose they have reason to celebrate: A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that half of Americans oppose Obamacare, compared with the 41 percent of people who support it. But before Republicans congratulate themselves, they need to ask: What should happen next?
However, before even that can be decided, Americans need to consider what’s driving the debate on healthcare. the systems as it stands right now involves going to the doctor for anything–––anything, from sniffles and sore throats to cancer treatments and major surgeries–––and having a larger entity pay the bill. In the United States, that entity (for now) is usually a private organization that you pay a monthly fee to belong to. In some other countries of the world, such as Canada, that entity is a government-managed plan that is supported by tax dollars. Still some countries, like Australia, offer residents the choice of either public or private plans
In any of these situations, you are going to the doctor and showing the receptionist proof that you’re on one of these plans. Chances are very good that, whatever cost you may incur, you won’t be paying for the bulk of your visit. In some cases, like Great Britain’s taxpayer-funded National Health Service, you might not pay for your visit at all (aside from some goods like prescription medication). Put simply, you are racking up a tab that somebody else is going to pick up.
That may sound a little harsh, and to be fair, the system was originally designed only for serious care (i.e. life-saving surgeries and emergency care). However, now, people use it for whatever ailments–––no matter how big or small–––come their way. They spend, and someone else pays.
I must admit that I’m guilty of it myself. The last time I visited a clinic for an ailment, I simply wanted antibiotics for a cold I needed to ward off. I should’ve paid for it myself. However, the receptionist asked for my health insurance card, and I dutifully gave it to her. I don’t think either of us expected it to go any differently. I paid $15 for the visit and medication, which wound up costing about $120.
Now, $120 is fairly steep for such a simple procedure. Considering that, you could say, well, that’s why we need insurance. But think about what happened in this situation: I blindly trusted my insurance cover me, thus ignoring just how much money it was covering. And why not–––if I’m not taking on the cost myself, why worry about it? Not only did I think that, but that’s how most people feel when they visit a doctor. Since that’s the common order of business, why do healthcare providers need to worry about the prices they charge? If somebody else is paying the bill, then what incentive does someone have to watch the costs they ring up?
It gives healthcare providers the incentive to prey on us. Think about when you usually go shopping, whether it’s for groceries, clothes, a house, a new car, whatever. We are able to comparison shop these items, and select the ones we think are the best value. If we don’t know much about the product we’re shopping for (like, “Which car is right for me?”), we can consult websites, magazines, and the word-of-mouth for guidance. I couldn’t even tell you how to comparison shop for healthcare, because the way our current system works makes it so that there’s no incentive to do such a thing.
Is there an alternative? Some people don’t think so. A recent editorial in The News Tribune validates what I’ve argued so far, but punctuates it with the words, “There’s no getting back to the days of the $5 house call.” That may be the case in a literal sense, but why altogether?
A good example I can think of Whole Foods Market, which has recently touted an employee healthcare plan quite different from most major employers. Employees must pay $1,300 of their money into their employer’s healthcare fund before they receive insurance. Then, they will receive insurance to help pay for major expenses (surgeries, radiation, etc.), but minor and routine procedures (physicals, flu shots, etc.) must be paid for with money stowed away in a worker’s health account. The company even helps put money into the account: $1,500 annually, which the employee then uses for any healthcare need at his or her discretion.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says that the healthcare plan has changed the way his employees buy their healthcare: “It changed behavior. They started asking how much things cost,” he said on ABC’s 20/20. “They may not want to go to the emergency room if they wake up with a hangnail in the middle of the night. They might make an appointment.”
This is not to say that the program Health Foods has is fool-proof–––it’s simply an idea that can easily be considered by Congress. However, Democrats, who control the Senate and White House, aren’t likely to renege on Obamacare, which follows a similar premise to our current healthcare system.
Even so, Republicans still have an opportunity to at least put themselves in the right light: They already have the support of voters in repealing Obamacare, and they have made that position known. Their next task is to go to the drawing board and draw up an alternative for the voting bloc to consider.
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