Hillman column: Politicians’ dismal record should nix public ‘option’
It’s not hard to understand why people are frustrated with health care.
Electricians, plumbers and mechanics can send us a simple bill with a price for their work, but doctors and hospitals send us bills with sticker-shock prices that they know will be marked down later.
Our health insurance isn’t really “insurance” but rather a system of prepaid financing. We have few choices except how much we’re willing to pay out-of-pocket.
Few of us still have the same insurance or doctor as ten years ago when President Obama assured us, “If you like (them), you can keep (them).”
Navigating health care customer service is rivaled only by the futility of trying to talk to a real person at Comcast or Century Link.
That much I get. What I don’t get is what makes anyone think that putting Colorado state government in charge of health care could possibly make it better.
In just the past year, our state grossly mismanaged unemployment benefits, resulting in at least $30 million in fraudulent payments. That amount would be much worse except that thousands of honest Coloradans threw away the debit cards they received for unemployment benefits they had never claimed.
Colorado has an even more dismal record providing health care benefits to 1.3 million residents on Medicaid. Failures of the Colorado Benefits Management System cover more than 20 years, at least four governors, and numerous computer system overhauls.
A 2005 rebuild ran $75 million over budget. A 2006 audit uncovered more than $90 million in improper payments. A 2009 audit found CBMS routinely paid more than allowed for health care and paid for treatment of patients who were deceased. Ten years later, an audit found Medicaid patients routinely receive contradictory information regarding their eligibility for services. Department officials said that could take two years to fix.
Incompetence is the only constant in state government’s record as a benefits manager. So, why hand bureaucrats a monkey wrench to tinker with everyone’s health care?
Yet that’s what House Bill 1232 would do. Sponsors Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon) don’t say as much, but even after the obnoxious original version was revised, they still empower the unelected Commissioner of Insurance to mandate arbitrary price reductions based on a number picked by politicians.
The resulting policy fails Economics 101.
Government can set prices, but it cannot reduce actual costs. If Colorado ordered gas stations to sell fuel at 20% below the market price, gas pumps would soon be empty because profits on fuel sales are far less than 20%. Gas stations can’t stay open if they lose money on every sale. What good is “affordable” fuel if our fuel tanks are empty?
With HB 1232, hospitals that won’t accept this arbitrary price reduction can be fined $40,000 a day, and the Commissioner can shut them down by revoking their license. Doctors, specialists and other health-care providers can be fined up to $5,000.
Why the sledgehammer to force compliance if this plan is so innovative? In truth, the Colorado Option — or whatever it may now be called — isn’t optional at all. What good is “affordable” health care if your doctor has moved out of state?
Politicians hate to admit that most of the problems in today’s health-care system are the result of political mandates that ignored basic economics and created price distortions. The way to solve a market distortion isn’t by imposing a worse market distortion.
Finally, consider the shameful record of politicians here and elsewhere during our COVID-19 experience. We know that governors, mayors and other politicians didn’t live by the strict rules they imposed on the rest of us. They traveled when we were told not to. They broke quarantine when we stayed at home. hey visited relatives when we couldn’t.
Gov. Jared Polis deemed Colorado legislators so “essential” that he gave them access to the COVID vaccine before schoolteachers. Do you think Coloradans shared those priorities?
With this record of incompetence and nepotism, politicians and bureaucrats have no business meddling further in a system they’ve already damaged so badly.
Mark Hillman served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. To read more or comment, go to http://www.MarkHillman.com.
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