Consumer input in health reform would be a true path to overhaul

Almost everyone agrees our health care system is broken and enormous waste and abuse must be eliminated. We have never had a social priority of this magnitude — one so closely associated with our economic stability, our physical well-being and the very future of our country.

As President Barack Obama said, health care costs in the U.S. are 1½ times the cost of the next highest industrialized country in the world, And yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians, we have one of the highest infant mortality rates and one of the lowest life expectancies compared to other developed countries.

While our elected officials explore solutions, I’m puzzled by the relative absence of discussion concerning the role of consumers in solving the crisis. We have a system where most people in this country have their insurance plans selected and paid for by their employer, but most insurance consumers are employees.

This makes no sense to me. While proposals put forth include an individual mandate, the reality is that even with an individual mandate, most employees will still be covered by health insurance provided by their employer. It places the consumer in a passive position and discourages the maximum proactive input needed for improving our health care system.

Wouldn’t it make sense that employees have some “skin in the game” — to borrow a term from Warren Buffett — when dealing with medical providers? I say this not just from the perspective of cost, but quality of care. Doesn’t it make sense when employees go to hospitals that they would want to know how many staph infections the hospital has dealt with in recent years?

Doesn’t it make sense that they would want to know how successful hospitals and doctors have been in dealing with heart problems, cancer, diabetes or any other serious or chronic health issues?

Doesn’t it also make sense that if consumers have some tangible financial investment in carefully selecting doctors and other medical providers, they would have a greater incentive to maintain a healthier lifestyle, thus preventing higher costs and suffering associated with a greater number of illnesses?

If employees have some skin in the game, doesn’t it make sense they would want to compare costs of procedures — hospital charges and doctors’ fees — well in advance of needing medical attention?

When the current system ultimately hears the same consistent messages for reforms from both the business community and truly engaged consumers, then — and perhaps only then — will we see the changes envisioned by Obama.

Small Business California believes that consumer engagement would go a long way in not only reducing costs, but also improving the quality of health care in the U.S.

Scott Hauge is the president of Small Business California.

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