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When the 'free market' isn't free

HutchisonI’d like to pose this question: Why isn’t health care considered to be on the same level as our national highway system, or police and fire protection, or national defense?

My question is rooted in my desire to see health care distributed equally across all our citizenry, regardless of income or background. We all benefit from our roads, whether we personally drive on them or not (e.g. we all eat the food transported on them); we are all protected by the police and fire departments; and our nation is kept safe by our armed forces. These are all funded by tax dollars. Shouldn’t we fund health care the same way? It is no less important.

I’ve recently been made aware of the crazy imbalance in our health care system. I’m ashamed to say I never really paid attention to it until I lost my job early this year. Now, due to the Affordable Care Act, I must “go shopping” for health insurance on the open market. What I see is that cost of coverage is about $1,300 per month for a family. When I was working, my employer covered about $900 of that cost, and I picked up the rest. Now, since we’re suddenly a low-income family, the government is picking up about $900, and I pay the rest. It’s the same to me, obviously, but the majority of the burden has shifted to the government. I hope to be back to work soon (although at 61, my prospects of getting work at my old rate are slim), and so not have to think about it anymore.

But this strikes me as significant: assuming 70 million families in the U.S., the health insurance industry is pulling in $91 billion per month in premiums. Collectively, families are paying $28 billion per month for their coverage, and either businesses or the government are paying the other $63 billion. I’m sure the businesses could find a better way to invest their portion, and I’d love to see our government outlay reduced. Insurance companies aren’t in the business for their health (no pun intended), so I’m sure that a significant portion of what they collect goes straight to investors.

I understand that investors are people too, but some of them don’t need the windfall they are reaping due to the ACA. And I understand that government-run agencies aren’t the most efficient. Normally I am a supporter of the free market, but in this case the market isn’t that free (the “individual mandate” is a disaster … allowing insurance rates to continue to climb, rather than the anticipated drop due to competition).

So, in order to protect everybody, give everybody coverage, and fund it by way of taxes (my personal favorite is graduated income tax).

Harold Hutchison lives in Forest Grove.