Bluegrass Beacon: Make health care affordable again

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Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Whether the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month, offers an effective repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – affectionately known as Obamacare – is the subject of much debate as the Senate takes up another attempt to deal with the failed health care fiasco.

It’s indisputable, however, that any replacement plan failing to deal with cost – the primary malady affecting health-care policy – is an effort in futility.

A growing body of evidence suggests that not only has Obamacare done little to address the cost of health-care products and services, it’s exacerbated the problem.

Recent analysis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates average premiums are 105 percent higher for Americans in the 39 states purchasing policies through the federal exchange in 2017 than for individuals’ plans in 2013 – before the exchange was created.

The analysis further unpacked reports that the average individual market premiums rose from $2,784 before Obamacare had kicked up to $5,712 in 2017.

“Affordable” Care Act, anyone?

All of this, it seems, would produce a wonderful opportunity for Republicans, who control Congress, the presidency and most state legislatures to use the leverage given them by voters to tattoo history with:  “Here’s how you do health-care reform,” and do it right.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Insurance-company lobbyists and welfare recipients have joined forces to weaken the resolve of many legislators who campaigned for changing a policy that never should have been implemented in the first place.

We would’ve been much better off seven years ago, instead of passing Obamacare, to adhere to the wise adage of President Calvin Coolidge: it’s “much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”

Still, killing not only Obamacare but its foundational ideas and approaches remains a priority.

More than reasonable doubt exists concerning whether the AHCA comes anywhere close to doing this – with its Obamacare-like approaches to taxes, subsidies and even mandates.

Northern Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie, one of 20 Republicans to oppose the AHCA, sassily compared the legislation to a kidney stone, charging “the House doesn’t care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it.”

Yet even when it comes to something as politically charged as whether we’re going to replace a health-care policy bearing the name of a Democratic president with a Republican-created substitute, progress can be made regarding critical policies in a bipartisan way.

There is, for example, strong support for making the cost of care transparent.

Costs have largely been hidden in our days of low co-pays, employer-provided plans dominated by third-party administrators and government programs.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a Medicaid patient ask me how much something costs,” Dr. Cameron Schaeffer, a Lexington-based pediatric urologist and proponent of free-market policies, said on KET’s recent Kentucky Tonight program.

Neither Obamacare nor the AHCA effectively connects patients with cost, which is critical to making America’s great health care affordable again.

One viewer’s email read by Kentucky Tonight host Renee Shaw noted, “a free market only works when there is competition.”

Both Schaeffer and fellow KET panelist Dr. Barbara Casper, an internist, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and Obamacare supporter, agreed providers should post their prices in a clear and understandable way.

Doing so would “help patients know what they’re getting into” and “would also allow for … more competition,” Casper said.

“I think we need to do everything we can to lower costs,” she added.

Whatever your political belief system, you will bear the burden or at least the consequences of higher health-care costs.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Medicaid expansion is not free, not even over the next three years

In the wake of Gov. Beshear’s medicaid expansion, multiple myths have been put forth by Obamaphiles – including Beshear himself – touting the benefits of such expansion.Balloon-Medicaid-4_jpg_800x1000_q100

One myth which the states are particularly fond of is the idea that somehow, since it’s paid for by the feds, expanding Medicaid to over 300,000 extra Kentuckians is completely free to denizens of the commonwealth. It’s as if the resources to provide healthcare to families at up to 138% of the federal poverty level (granted, low-quality healthcare) miraculously came down from the heavens and came to rest right here in the commonwealth, just waiting for a sickly child or two to consume them.

Of course, as inquiring Kentucky minds know, the feds can’t provide anything whatsoever to Kentuckians that hasn’t been taken from someone else, and the resources taken to fund expanded Medicaid will in large part be taken from Kentuckians right here at home.

The fact that the resources are funneled through the federal government does nothing to change this fact.

In fact, according to a recent Heritage report, Medicaid expansion will add $638 billion dollars to government spending over the next 10 years, and that’s spending from a government already $16 trillion in the hole and counting.

What’s worse, by 2017, Medicaid expansion won’t even be free to Kentuckians in federal fantasy land, because the state governments are legally required to pick up a chunk of the bill.

And all this assumes the feds actually keep their promises to fund the state’s endeavors with your federal tax dollars. Who knows when the changing tide of politics will turn this whole funding charade on its back, leaving the states completely responsible for the even more bloated Medicaid catastrophe, and the hundreds of thousand of citizens made to depend on it.

Medicaid is officially expanding in the commonwealth

Well apparently Kentucky is officially the 21st state in the nation to be treated to the wonders of Medicaid expansion – thanks to Gov. Steve Beshear, Obama’s No. 1 lap dog.Medicaid Expansion Map

Is anyone surprised? Beshear has been hinting that he’ll accept the federal dollars for Medicaid expansion – and the chains that come with them – for nearly a year now.

One has to wonder if Beshear even considered a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine which showed Medicaid expansion in Oregon resulted in ZERO significant health benefits compared to those uninsured. Whether we’re talking blood pressure, levels of blood sugar, or cholesterol levels, those who were randomly selected to join Medicaid showed no difference in levels of health compared to those who were not selected.

But why would Beshear be concerned with such trifling statistics when he already made up his mind to jump on the Obamacare bandwagon a year ago?

As Jim Waters, President of the Bluegrass Institute, put it in his recent interview with WHAS in Louisville, “Medicaid expansion will only make a broken program bigger, not better.”