Published in The Oklahoman February 8, 2009
It may seem counter-intuitive to put "President Bush” and "successes in health reform” in the same sentence, but the Bush administration made undeniable progress in creating an innovation-friendly health sector.
Bush promoted market-friendly health policies that helped to slow the growth in health insurance costs, created new models for care delivery and financing, and fostered a more patient-centered health care system.
These changes helped keep the increase in U.S. health spending level for four years at around 6 percent — a far cry from the double-digit spikes of the past. Employers who adopted consumer-directed health plans saw their costs rise at an even lower rate — 2.6 percent.
This progress may soon be quashed by politicians eager to exert more government control over health care. This would force the private health sector to operate under the same rule-driven, price-fixed, benefit-restricted dictates as the public sector.
Employers would be required to offer health insurance designed in Washington. A new Federal Health Board would make decisions about what treatments should be covered. And millions more people would be enrolled in outmoded public programs that restrict access to physicians and medicines.
Before we embark on that course, it’s wise to remember what the private-sector innovation of the Bush years brought us.
The competitive Medicare drug benefit and health savings accounts were the headline health policies of the Bush administration, but the list doesn’t stop there.
In its first 10 years, the Medicare prescription drug benefit is slated to cost $240 billion less than projected, largely because the program relies on market competition and consumer choice.
Overall prescription drug spending has dropped dramatically. Retail drug spending grew 4.9 percent in 2007, its lowest level since 1963. Prescription drug prices increased just 1.4 percent last year, thanks in part to greater usage of lower-cost generics.
Nonetheless, pharmaceutical companies continue to make investments — $59 billion worth in 2007 — to develop new medicines.
Innovative insurance designs have also helped millions get coverage. More than 6 million people now have insurance that qualifies them to open tax-favored HSAs. These accounts allow them to save on premiums and put aside money for future health needs.
Employers also have made strides in controlling health costs.
Target, for example, offers its employees several health insurance choices, some of which cost employees just $20 a month. Whole Foods puts up to $1,800 a year into a health spending account for each employee.
Of course, serious problems persist. Health care still costs too much. Millions of Americans are uninsured, and many more are worried they are one pink slip away from losing their coverage. Medicare and Medicaid are swallowing up federal and state revenues, compromising other government functions and threatening huge tax increases.
The Obama administration faces a multitude of policy challenges, but they must respect the genius of the market when it comes to responding to consumer demands, improving health care quality, and lowering prices through efficiency and innovation.
President Bush promoted market-friendly health policies that helped to slow the growth in health insurance costs, created new models for care delivery and financing, and fostered a more patient-centered health care system.
Turner is president of the Galen Institute.