Published in the Detroit Free Press on October 22, 2008
"Choosy moms choose Jif."
That famous peanut butter slogan gets right to the point: If you are particular about what you feed your family, then you could choose no other brand responsibly. And how could a mom afford not to be choosy?
Choosing anything less than the best for her children would be unthinkable.
When it comes to health care, making the right choices for your family is far more complicated than assembling your PB & J — and far more critical. Your choices determine your family's budget, which doctors you can see, what treatments you receive. Faced with the complex and weighty decision of purchasing health insurance, what's a choosy customer to do?
Depending on who is elected president in November, the choice of health insurance for your family may or may not remain in your hands. The immediate choice is who you'll put in charge of that decision — Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain. The candidates have dramatically different plans.
McCain wants to expand the number of insurance options available for Americans, giving the uninsured new opportunities and financial help. Obama wants to create a new government-run health insurance program and force private insurers to mirror what the government offers.
McCain would allow people to buy health insurance across state lines, which would open that market to competition. As it is now, we're stuck buying policies within our own states, complete with the rules and restrictions they have.
It's well known that New Yorkers pay more for health insurance than Iowans do, simply because they live in New York. That's not fair; they should have the same array of plans available to them. In an open marketplace, insurers would have to compete on many points, including price, benefits and, importantly, customer service.
Americans traditionally enjoy having options. Whether it's religious freedom, educational freedom, or just hitting the big-buffet restaurant, we want choice. And we don't like to get trapped. If we try one church — or even one religion — and don't like it, we can change. We can transfer schools. We don't have to finish eating that mystery meat from the buffet; we can just move on to dessert.
But health care is one sector where we often don't have that choice. Not only are we stuck buying coverage in one state, but 60% of us don't have a choice about our insurance plan. If Americans are insured through their jobs, their employers make choices for them. Part-time or low-income workers who are uninsured certainly don't have many options, either.
But with health insurance, Americans may be more cautious. Sure, we'd like to have health insurance options, but the bottom line is we need health insurance. When someone tells us he could guarantee we wouldn't have to worry about it anymore, that sounds pretty good.
That's what Obama is doing — promising people his health care plan will take care of everything and everyone. But in the rhetoric of guarantees, the value of freedom has been lost.
Obama's promise doesn't mention the (at least) five new bureaucracies he would create, starting with a new government health insurer that would push private plans — and our choices — out of the marketplace. So that would leave us without a choice. Government would determine health benefits for all of us.
The health care debate in this election isn't only about covering the uninsured, getting electronic medical records or improving care. It's about who makes our decisions. McCain proposes offering a refundable tax credit and portable insurance policies that would give us more power as individuals to choose what we think is best for our families.
It's up to the voters to tell Washington we're still the decision-makers. We have to let our leaders know we value our freedom. We can't afford to be anything but choosy.
AMY MENEFEE is director of communications for the Galen Institute, a nonprofit research organization that promotes free-market ideas in the health care sector.