Another View: Overhaul needs to be sensible

Health care reform is long overdue in this country, but better access, more insurance coverage and lower costs will come from a uniquely American solution, not a European model with its own critical problems.

Washington’s latest plan would increase spending by at least a trillion dollars and impose a host of new regulations, mandates and penalties on individuals and businesses. It leaves 16 million Americans uninsured and provides no long-term quality or cost solutions.

Tax increases to pay for this massive plan would boost the top marginal income tax rate in Georgia to 52 percent — seven percentage points higher than France’s top tax rate.

Government-controlled medical care fails the president’s cost reduction test. Medicaid and Medicare are fiscal time bombs, with the unfunded promises of Medicare alone estimated at $36 trillion. Massachusetts, which implemented a plan in 2006 similar to the Washington proposal, has seen a 42 percent cost increase. To put this in perspective, the average monthly health insurance premium for individual insurance in Massachusetts is $711, as compared to $202 in Georgia.

There is, of course, room for improvement. The United States may be the best place in the world to be if you are sick, but it needs to facilitate access to routine care outside the emergency room.

Outreach must improve to individuals with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease that account for three-fourths of the health care spending in Georgia. Both challenges require a community-based approach.

Other common-sense reforms include removing the tax penalty on those without employer-provided insurance and creating a national market for health insurance. Transparency in cost and quality measures can help us move to a system that pays for outcomes rather than activity.

Finally, don’t throw out what’s working. Incentives for healthy lifestyles helped Safeway cut costs 38 percent over four years. Consumer-driven health plans, only implemented five years ago, have reduced costs as much as 20 percent, significantly increased preventive care and increased compliance with evidence-based medicine — all stated goals of the Obama administration.

In the administration’s zeal to “fix” health care, it must be careful not to destroy the engine of innovation that’s saving lives every day. Health care costs are rising at an unsustainable rate, so inaction is not an option.

Kelly McCutchen is executive vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.