Commentary

Time to Start Over

Plans in Congress simply pile on new mandates, taxes and subsidies

If you’re going the wrong way down a road, the answer isn’t to step on the gas, but to turn around.

It is not that the U.S. doesn’t need health care reform, but it needs the right type of reform. Problematic as our system often is, it is possible to make things worse.

All the bills making their way through Congress start from the same failed premise: They would put the government in charge of one-sixth of our economy and some of the important personal and private decisions in our lives.

[T]he problems facing our health care system stem not from too little government control, but too much.”

They would force people to buy a government-designed insurance package or face a penalty. They would establish incentives and structures that could eventually lead to the rationing of care. Some versions would force millions of workers into a government-run plan.

And they would do so at enormous cost to the American people in terms of higher taxes, greater debt and increased insurance premiums. Even the cheapest bill costs more than $800 billion ($2 trillion if off-budget costs are included) over the next decade. Americans would end up paying more, but getting less.

But the problems facing our health care system stem not from too little government control, but too much. Government regulations add more than $169 billion annually to the cost of health care. Other regulations limit competition between insurers and providers by, for instance, prohibiting people from buying insurance across state lines. Government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are trillions of dollars in debt and are models of waste, fraud and inefficiency.

And our current tax laws penalize people who don’t receive insurance through their work, meaning that if you lose your job, you lose your insurance.

The bills now before Congress don’t fix these problems. They simply pile on new mandates, regulations, taxes and subsidies. No amount of tinkering, or budgetary sleight of hand, can make them better.

It’s time for Congress to scrap its current flawed government-centered approach and start over with a focus on creating a consumer-oriented free market in health care.

After all, isn’t it better to get it done right than to just get it done?

Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and co-author of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.