Congress must reduce runaway health care costs

By: Eric Stader

Appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.

As a physician, one of the biggest problems I see facing the country is the ridiculous cost of health care. This perennial issue must finally be solved by Congress before it further devastates American pocketbooks and public health. A recent Kaiser Health News analysis finds a staggering 100 million Americans have medical debt.

I can say firsthand that the underlying cost of routine health care is not that expensive. Unfortunately, countless third parties, led by health insurance bureaucrats and government regulators, drive up patients’ bills. Doctors’ reimbursements from insurance companies have actually declined in many cases when adjusted for inflation while insurers make off with record profits.

My patients face inexorable increases in their insurance premiums and deductibles for seemingly no added benefit. Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed the average annual employer-sponsored family health premium, which businesses and employees typically split, increased to $22,463 this year. Experts predict these costs will balloon even further next year.

What can the new Congress do? It must finally address the underlying causes of these high costs rather than just dealing with the symptoms. (For the latest example of the latter approach, observe this summer’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which sent $64 billion of taxpayer funds to extend expanded Obamacare plan subsidies that generally enable insurers to jack up prices.)

It is now often less expensive for patients to pay for routine care directly than file an insurance claim. This makes sense. Just like we don’t file an insurance claim when we service our car, we shouldn’t have to do so for our basic medical needs.

The new Congress can support such less expensive, market-based alternatives by relaxing rules on health savings accounts, which allow patients to save money tax-free to pay for their health care needs directly. I have used an HSA for 15 years and thoroughly enjoy the flexibility and freedom it affords. My employees use the same plan and share my affinity for it.

Congress can also back initiatives to bolster price transparency to let patients shop for the best value. Finally, it can deregulate inexpensive catastrophic health insurance plans, which patients can pair with direct medical care to dramatically reduce their health care costs.

Such reforms strike at the roots of the nation’s health care cost crisis, not merely the weeds that grow from them.

In addition to being a doctor, I am also a small business owner experiencing the numerous significant headwinds many of the nation’s entrepreneurs are facing. I’ll name just two: Outrageous energy costs and tax uncertainty.

I expect my clinic’s electricity and heating bills to be about 50% higher this winter compared to last. These energy bills are a major input cost that we have no other choice but to pass along to our patients. The new Congress must support increased domestic energy production to decrease these costs. Why should the U.S. be begging Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to produce more oil when we can do so at home and enjoy the associated economic benefits?

Finally, the small business tax cuts associated with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in 2017, begin expiring next year. These tax cuts allow ordinary small businesses like mine to keep a little more of our revenue in our communities, helping us hire, expand and raise employee wages. The new Congress should prioritize making these tax cuts permanent so that small businesses can enjoy a modicum of financial certainty in these uncertain times.

The Job Creators Network, a small business advocacy organization, features these health care, energy, and tax cut solutions in its recently introduced American Small Business Prosperity Plan. The new Congress should use this bipartisan eight-point platform as a playbook to overcome the country’s biggest challenges and jumpstart economic growth. There’s no time to waste.

Stader is the co-owner of High Point Family Medicine in Lancaster and a partner of Job Creators Network Foundation.