When was the last time you saw a doctor? For millions of Americans, the price of healthcare and health insurance keeps climbing with no end in sight. Recent polls show that healthcare is approaching the importance of the war in Iraq and the economy in the minds of voters this November.

Angela Cesere

In April, Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass) – a 2008 presidential contender – staked his claim as a healthcare reformer by announcing a program that would insure every Massachusetts resident. While Gov. Romney’s plan is more free-market oriented than HillaryCare, it still reeks of the “something for nothing” mentality that voters possess and politicians capitalize on to win.

Currently, government does not require hospitals and care centers across the country to list the prices of procedures and treatments available at their facilities. Why? It’s quite simple: if you actually knew the price of the treatment you seek, the odds are greater that you won’t seek treatment. For example, when you feel the common cold coming on, would you choose to buy a $10 bottle of NyQuil at CVS or would you schedule a $100 appointment with your doctor?

Enter the ambitious politicians across the country. Voters love politicians who promise to lower the cost of healthcare with minimal impact on their checkbooks. Which brings me to a second observation – ever wonder why the Medicare tax is automatically deducted from your paychecks rather than you sending a personal check into the Department of Treasury?

Politicians realized a long time ago that the more personal the relationship between tax collector and taxpayer, the less people liked handing over their money. As a result, opposition to tax increases grew. And without tax increases, big government programs cease to exist.

Some on the left will tell you that universal healthcare is the answer to our ills. Empirically, universal healthcare is one of the worst ideas in the history of man. Government-controlled healthcare inevitably leads to rationing. The system operates by controlling the price a healthcare provider can charge the government. As is often the case with price controls set below the free-market price, less efficient, poorer made products result.

When every citizen can receive healthcare at anytime he pleases, government creates surplus demand. The price controls give producers no incentive to increase supply to meet demand and the quality of the product suffers.

If you don’t believe me, go into any hospital in Buffalo, and count the number of Canadians fleeing their utopian universal healthcare system to seek treatment in America.

The most promising solution to reducing the cost of healthcare is to make the system more free-market oriented. To accomplish this goal, Americans must understand that healthcare is not a birth right – it is a product they must pay for. By making price a more relevant factor in the decision to seek healthcare, market forces will correct over-consumption, reduce costs and lead to more efficient healthcare.

First, Congress must expand the ability of Americans to save money without being taxed in health savings accounts, which allow people to pay out of their pocket for treatment without the shenanigans of government and health insurance companies. Because Americans will pay with their own money, they will ideally invest the same time, energy and decision-making skills that they currently utilize when purchasing important items like automobiles.

Second, we should require that hospitals and treatment facilities list their prices in a publicly accessible venue, like the internet. This will allow consumers to compare prices for treatments in a manner similar to auction sites like Buy.com. Florida already has such a website, and within a year of its establishment, hospitals noticed a dramatic shift in patient movement based on the relative prices of treatments.

Third, we must continue to reform our tort laws to prevent jury shopping and frivolous lawsuits from raising the cost of healthcare. One of the least popular jobs in America is that of an obstetrician. Because mothers sue their obstetricians so frequently, the cost of medical malpractice insurance is through the roof. The higher malpractice insurance premiums result in higher child-birth costs and in a decreasing number of obstetricians graduating from medical school. Do we really want mothers giving birth under the supervision of mid-wives?

Stiglich can be reached at jcsgolf@umich.edu.

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