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Pennsylvanians will still pay more for health care

| Monday, June 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

How much does the average Pennsylvanian pay for health care? Too much. Roughly 18 percent of your income goes toward your health care, on average. Research from Harvard shows that health care spending will grow faster than the economy for at least the next 20 years.

ObamaCare was supposed to prevent this — but it can't. Rather than reform health care, ObamaCare merely expanded health insurance — a costly system that leaves patients behind and is largely responsible for spiraling costs.

In health care, the two parties that matter are you and your health care provider (your doctor, the pharmacy, etc.). You spend the least money when you pay your provider directly.

Consider how health insurance works. Your money exchanges hands multiple times before it reaches the provider. It first goes to a third party (either the insurance company or the government). Those entities negotiate compensation schedules with providers and facilities. These steps add bureaucratic and administrative costs to health care's price tag.

And although insurers attempt to lock in reasonable prices on your behalf, they often come up short. Why? Because they're not spending their money — they're spending yours. They thus have less of a financial incentive to get the best deal.

The same problem affects you once you have health insurance. After you pay your premiums, insurance gives you the illusion that you're spending someone else's money. The health insurance trap thus comes full circle — both insurers and consumers make it more expensive.

At this point, you might want to abandon health insurance in favor of the “single payer” system favored by European countries. But single payer systems suffer from the same problems — and they add in a few more. In single payer, government is the sole provider of health insurance. It thus spends everyone's money. And the same perverse spending principles apply.

The government recognizes this, so it tries to stop consumers from spiking prices further. It restricts our access to health care through regulation. This leads to poorer quality (think of Medicaid), long waits (think of Europe or Canada) and rationing. This is exactly what's happening to the single payer Veterans Affairs system, where veterans are now dying.

This begs the question: If not ObamaCare, what else? Reformers should start by giving consumers the freedom to make their own health care choices. We need to return health insurance to the role of taking care of unpredictable, catastrophic health care expenses and leave everyday health care decisions in the hands of consumers.

We know this works. In cosmetic surgery, Lasik eye surgery, alternative medicine and dentistry, the absence — or minimal presence — of government regulation or health insurance has driven prices down and quality and service up.

Doctors can also refuse to take health insurance. More doctors and hospitals are choosing this path. One of my patients did this and saved $17,000 on a single procedure.

Lawmakers should encourage this kind of patient-focused innovation. Instead they gave us ObamaCare, which wraps health care in red tape and forces everyone to purchase health insurance. Real reform shouldn't leave us with a higher bill.

Jeffrey A. Singer, MD, FACS, practices general surgery in the greater Phoenix area and is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

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