McCain And Palin: Promoting Failed Consumer-Driven Health Care

palin.jpgIn choosing Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has found someone who shares his vision of a radically different health care system which shifts the financial incentive and risk from the insurance company to the patient.

While McCain seeks to do-away with consumer protections, deregulate the insurance industry, drive Americans into scantier coverage, and inevitably phase-out the current employer-based system, Palin has similarly called for “flexibility in government regulation that allow competition in health care.”

As governor, Palin sought to push for greater commodification of health care by establishing the Alaska Health Care Strategies Planning Council and, after introducing a transparency act, promised to build “on the work they have done.”

Palin’s council promoted consumer-driven health care. Here are some highlights from the report:

Increase the place of consumerism in health care purchasing by giving people control over their health care dollar…

Reduce potential for financial impact from catastrophic loss by supporting new and innovative approaches to insurance for individuals, which would be consumer-owned, portable, and purchased with pre-tax dollar

– With respect to lowering costs, insurance that is portable and consumer-owned plays a central role, and requires much more discussion at the state level.

Consumerism is an essential component of bringing rationality to the health insurance structure in Alaska…insurance must be consumer-owned, market-responsive and portable;

But ironically, consumers are often dissatisfied with “consumer-owned” plans. Thirty-three to 42% “of people in consumer-driven health plans are extremely or very satisfied with their health plans, compared to 63 percent of those with traditional plans” and Americans in such plans are twice as likely to report delaying or avoiding care and about three times as likely to report paying a large fraction of their income on health costs as those in comprehensive insurance.

What’s more, “enrollees in consumer-driven health plans appear to be significantly healthier than others. As sicker workers stay in traditional plans, the cost of such plans will go up, causing such plans to become unaffordable for workers and employers. This erodes group purchasing power, leading to even higher prices, and possibly more uninsured Americans. It could also undermine Medicare as it expands there.”

Unfortunately, in treating health care like any other consumer good, both McCain and Palin are placing ideology ahead of improving access and expanding health care coverage. Since “health care is ultimately about preserving life and delaying death,” “buying health care may not be the same as buying an iPod” — McCain and Palin should take note.