Health care makeover could be so very simple

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 16, 2009

You don’t run into a lot of people who are 100 percent satisfied with how health care is served up and paid for in America.

You do run into a lot of people who don’t want Congress to mess with “the system.”

Put those two sentiments in a pot, stir briskly and what do you get?

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The problem is trust, period.

We know improvements are needed.

We don’t think creating a federal Department of Health Management will get us from Point A to Point B.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail.

From the day each of us was born — whether the bill was paid by our folks, Medicaid, SCHIP, CHAMPUS, private insurance or whether our mothers escaped with us through a back door — we’ve been exposed time and again to government inefficiencies.

Just in the health care arena there are Medicare, a fully federal program, and Medicaid, a federal-state program.

Medicare, for all who are 65 or older, was never supposed to cost more than $3.5 billion per year. Today, the tab is $600 billion per year and the government itself estimates 10 percent — that’s $60 billion or 10 times the whole annual general fund budget of Mississippi — is ripped off. The $60 billion doesn’t include any waste or duplication. That’s the amount in checks being paid to criminal enterprises that got account numbers and started sending in bills.

Medicaid, initially designed to provide medical services for the destitute, now enrolls more than one of every six Mississippians and, despite the fact Mississippi is getting six federal dollars for every dollar the state pays, is bankrupting Mississippi by requiring millions more of the state’s dollars every year.

Expense is not the only issue. This year, Congress passed reforms to clamp down on credit card companies to help consumers. The result is higher interest rates and fees for their customers. A decade or so ago, Congress passed a “luxury tax” to be imposed on big-ticket items such as private planes and yachts. The result was a shutdown of the U.S. aircraft and boatbuilding companies and tens of thousands of jobs moving overseas.

Some of the backers of a government “takeover” of health care cite the exorbitant pay of top insurance executives. That may be shameful, but shouldn’t be an issue. Besides, they’re probably just grabbing all they can because they sense government-ized health care is coming no matter what.

The House-passed bill is a nightmare of complexity. It tries to change everything and keep everything the same. Some call it a starting point. Makes me remember that nightmares have starting points, too.

The Senate proposals are equally bollixed.

The various constituencies (who really write legislation) would never go for it, but here’s my idea:

• Leave health care private, even phasing out all public hospitals not associated with medical schools or serving active members of the military.

• Tax every dollar of income a nickel. No exceptions.

• Give sick people whatever they need and pay the market price from the fund.

We all know I’m no math whiz, but based on total annual income of Americans reported to the IRS, a nickel a dollar would generate plenty of money to pay the $6,000 annual average medical cost now incurred by Americans. For most individuals and families, the added tax would more than be offset by their savings in health premiums or the raises they could get if their employer is now paying their premiums.

The only people who wouldn’t like it would be the insurance bigwigs, but they already have their billions. They could just sail off to the Bahamas (which has universal health care) on their yachts (made in Mexico).