Sunday, November 8, 2009

What the House healthcare bill could mean for you

The America's Affordable Health Choices Act (which thankfully isn't a PATRIOT ACT-style backronym) just made it through the House by a narrow margin. Now the big question: what could it do for you?

Most importantly, not deliver on its name. Consumer Reports took a look at what contributes to healthcare costs in America, and the bill (at least according to the summaries I read) does little to address them. The bulk of the bill seems to focus on regulating insurance companies and insuring the uninsured via a publicly owned insurance company.

The proposed regulations force insurance companies to insure more people and at rates that disregard medical history and other factors. Insurance companies are far from the corporate villains public healthcare advocates paint them as, making a profit margin of only 7% or so, so paying for these changes isn't simply a matter of cutting into profits; insurance companies will likely pass the added expense onto their healthier customers. As a nothing more than a guess, I'd say premiums will go up around 10% for most people, but down for people with various medical conditions.

To get closer to universal healthcare, the bill would create a publicly owned insurer and a regulated marketplace for the uninsured to shop for insurance (because going to Google is too hard). To fund the semi-universal coverage, the income of anyone richer than wealthy would be taxed a few extra percent each year. Ironically, according to the Congressional Budget Office the public option panacea I've been reading about would actually have higher premiums than private insurers. Keeping it in the bill is nothing more than an ideological victory for hyper-liberals.

All is not lost, though. The incidental benefit to insuring some of the uninsured is that it would free emergency rooms from dealing with minor problems better suited to a G.P. Hospitals are notoriously expensive, and a level of triage for the uninsured would cut hospital expenses.

In short, the bill does little to address the largest contributors to high healthcare costs--doctors and hospitals--and instead shuffles some of the costs around in a way that appeases various interests with no concrete goal for the sake of claiming involvement in "healthcare reform."