Commentary

Both Sides Like This Solution to High Health Care Costs

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It is quite rare that ideas are proposed that transcend partisanship. Even rarer is an idea that transcends partisanship in the area of health care, which is one of the single most demagogued and polluted issues in American politics.

Typically, when it comes to health care, the left and the right go to war with each other. Liberals demand more coverage for more people, paid for by the government, and conservatives demand market-based reforms. Battle lines are drawn, and virtually no common ground can be found.

But, believe it or not, there is a bill currently being considered in the Maine Legislature that is that very rare idea that can bring left and right together.

The bill I am talking about is LD 1305, which is sponsored by Sen. Rod Whittemore, “An Act To Encourage Health Insurance Consumers To Comparison Shop for Health Care Procedures and Treatment.”

Essentially what it seeks to deal with is the cost of health care.

That goal is the first thing that unifies the right and the left. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, the tremendously high cost of health care is an issue, and one we all seek to change.

Great, so what do we do about it?

Whittemore’s bill (in full disclosure, the organization I lead, The Maine Heritage Policy Center has been working on it this session) attacks the problem in a number of ways. Some ways make the left happy, and others make the right happy, as all truly bipartisan ideas operate.

Basically, it boils down to making health care decisions more transparent, and incentivizing health care consumers to shop for higher-quality, lower-cost care. Both of these ideas are critical for the idea not only to work, but for it to be truly bipartisan.

Let’s start with the transparency portion of the bill, which is a huge part of why many on the left love this idea.

One of the biggest reasons that health care is so expensive in this country is because no one truly knows what anything costs, and they do not consider that type of information in decisionmaking about their own health care.

The approach LD 1305 takes starts with a simple concept: the need to provide easy access to comparative price listings for tests and procedures at various locations that a consumer can access and evaluate for himself.

This transparency is important, because it not only helps consumers judge health care decisions on quality and cost, it also helps hold providers accountable for high prices and poor care.

But transparency also isn’t enough. There are currently many transparency tools available to the average consumer, but nobody really uses them.

Do you? Didn’t think so. These tools aren’t widely used because there is really no reason to use them.

That’s where the incentives come in, which is why the right likes the bill.

LD 1305 was designed to require a carrier to share savings from price shopping with the consumer. That way the carrier sees those savings, and the consumer has a direct benefit that makes it worth her while to actually shop for lower-cost health care.

The aggregate effect is that thousands of health care consumers become mindful of how much health care costs, scrutinize that cost, and shop around for better deals. This incentive will drive people to start taking ownership of the cost of health care, and the result will be a significant reduction in the amount of money spent on health care.

You might think that more inexpensive options correlate with lower-quality care. You might also think that the variation isn’t enough for this to be that big of a deal.

In both instances, you would be wrong.

Some self-insurers in Maine already run programs like this for their employees and have seen savings of tens of thousands of dollars a year. Those savings are real money to employees. Many no longer have to delay or neglect care simply for fear of affordability, and the quality of care they get is oftentimes better than what they would have gotten elsewhere.

For the companies that have done this, premiums have leveled while the rest of the state continues to face annual inflation.

At the end of the day, this is about lowering the cost of health care for real people in Maine who are struggling (or will struggle) with medical bills. To do it, we push for more transparency and accountability, and we give it teeth through incentives and market forces.

Maine’s Legislature would be mad to pass up this opportunity.

*This article originally appeared in the Bangor Daily News.

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to his tenure at MHPC, Matt spent eight years working in national politics in Washington, D.C., most recently as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association. A Hampden native, Matt is a nationally recognized political strategist and communicator.

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