The objective of the ACA’s individual mandate was to remedy a flaw in the market for health insurance: the expectation by the uninsured that the costs of their inevitable illnesses would be benignly transferred to those fortunate to have coverage. If you believe that guaranteed issue and community-rating requires 100% participation in the health insurance market to sustain financial viability, clearly the most efficient mechanism to achieve this is not through an individual mandate, in which the heavy hand of government coerces people to do what they otherwise would not. If the federal government has a professed welfare interest in controlling health care costs, it can – and should – accomplish that goal through a more economically efficient single-payer mechanism.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 31 – No 08 – August 2012
Given that the primary business objective of a for-profit insurer is to make a profit, the fundamental question we should be asking is this: What is the marginal value of private health insurance? That is, what advantage vis-à-vis a single-payer model like Medicare does our system of private, profit-oriented health insurance convey to patients, providers, and employers? What exactly do private insurers do, above and beyond what Medicare does, that is deserving of their inflated premiums? To my knowledge, there is no evidence that commercial insurance provides easier access or less hassle-free care, is more cost effective, produces care of higher quality, or has better consumer satisfaction ratings than Medicare (if anyone has evidence to the contrary, from the peer-reviewed health policy literature, please advise). And according to a recent poll, most Americans prefer to keep Medicare as it is, rather than switching to a premium-support financing mechanism as advocated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Whatever bad things you can say about our government, at least the Feds are not required to make a profit but are required to answer to all taxpayers, rather than private shareholders who are concerned only with the bottom line.
Under a single-payer system, every American would receive a basic package that would include inpatient and outpatient care, primary care and specialty physician services, emergency care, preventive and restorative care, mental health and substance abuse services, dental care, prescription drugs, home health care, and long-term care. Doctors and other providers would be paid based on a fee-for-service schedule, as negotiated with state governments, with funding coming from progressive payroll taxes paid by both individuals and employers. Quality would be monitored and publicly reported, with financial incentives awarded to providers who followed clinical guidelines endorsed by their medical specialty societies. All services provided would be publicly accountable. Medical decision making at the bedside would be left to the physician.