‘Start over’ is not code for stonewalling health-care reform

President Obama and Democrats in Congress say that starting over on health-care reform is akin to stonewalling.

President Obama and Democrats in Congress say that starting over on health-care reform is akin to stonewalling. They are wrong, just as wrong as those who want to do nothing.

The problem is there is too much testosterone flying around the nation’s capitol and Americans are tired of the antics and political gamesmanship. It’s time to give them all an ice cold shower and send them back to work.

Reforming health care is not about social engineering; it is not about jamming an unpopular and expensive experiment down our throats. It is about building upon what is working and fixing what is not.

But the competing plans in Congress amount to a complicated and untested trillion-dollar gamble. What would their plans mean for America?

The first clue is what is happening in Massachusetts.

That state’s universal health plan is the basis for the Democrats’ health-care reform in Congress, yet average Massachusetts insurance premiums are now the highest in the nation, and the state is now poised to impose cost controls in an effort to stop the financial hemorrhage.

Since it was enacted in 2006, premiums in Massachusetts have climbed at an annual rate of 30 percent in the individual market. Small business costs have increased by 5.8 percent. Per capita, health spending in Massachusetts is now 27 percent higher than the national average.

Translation: It is not the model for America’s health-care system.

Yes, health care is too expensive, but there are safer ways to bring down costs. It all starts by giving consumers a choice and allowing market-based innovations to flourish.

For example, Indiana has implemented consumer-driven health care for state workers using HSAs or Health Saving Accounts. The state pays the premium for the plan and deposits $2,750 per year in an account controlled by the employee. Employees use the money to pay their medical bills and get to keep any unused funds. The intent is that participants will become more cost-conscious and careful about overpayment or overutilization.

To date, Indiana employees have pocketed some $30 million or about $2,000 per employee in unused HSA funds. For the 6 percent of employees who use up their entire account, the state shares additional health costs up to an out-of-pocket maximum of $8,000, after which the employee is completely protected.

More than 70 percent of Indiana’s 30,000 state workers chose the HSA option this year, by far the highest in America’s public sector. However, because government unions have rejected these plans, the average use of HSAs in the public sector nationally is just 2 percent.

We have also seen effective ways to keep down prescription drug costs.

A couple of years ago, when people were up in arms about the costs of prescription drugs, Wal-Mart introduced the $4 prescription drug program. Then two years ago, Safeway matched Wal-Mart.

These ideas — Health Savings Accounts and low-cost prescription drug programs —can be thrown into the mix if the president and Congress would clear their minds, park their egos, forget about their legacies and find ways to help Americans get the health care they deserve at a cost they can afford.

Unfortunately, that may not happen, given the tenor and temperament in the other Washington these days. But the American people have had enough. If Democrats insist on jamming a bill through using what is called “reconciliation,” Katy, bar the door! Voters will make the Massachusetts election look like a church picnic.

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.

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