Who knows what — if anything — Senate Republicans will do about health care reform.
But there is a fundamental truth that is being overlooked in all the hyperbolic rhetoric over Medicaid, mandates, subsidies, accessibility and taxes: Free markets would turn our ailing healthcare system into a dynamic, innovative cornucopia of better and ever more affordable care for all of us. We'll see if Washington can rise to the challenge of starting to remove the formidable obstacles to such a market where patients would be in charge rather than the third party payers of government, big insurers and big employers.
There are a number of impressive examples of what the private sector is capable of providing us if government barriers were removed.
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Take one particular product from Stryker, one of the world's largest medical device companies. Its innovative SurgiCount scanners address the problem of "retained" surgical sponges. Despite being considered a "never event," surgical sponges are left inside patients an estimated dozen times a day in the US. A single such incident costs about $600,000 in corrective surgery, indemnity payments and legal settlements. SurgiCount avoids all that by electronically tracking the sponges used in an operation, rather than leaving that to chance in a manual count by harried operating room surgeons and nurses.
Innovation can be seen at the retail level as drug store chains Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid push further into health care delivery. The authoritative journal Hospitals & Health Networks reported that this push will continue "to put pressure on traditional providers to 'up their game' on access — or partner." What Hospitals & Health Networks didn't say is that it would at the same time enhance consumer access and choice.
In similar fashion, the University of Southern California Center for Body Computing's Virtual Care Clinic, along with eight partners, helps deliver wireless, on-demand health care to anyone with a smartphone. The Virtual Care Clinic system uses mobile apps, wearable sensors, data collection, "virtual" health care providers and more to connect users with USC medical expertise.
USC is calling it an "anytime, anywhere" disruptive health care model to deliver "borderless health care." That would pair nicely with an idea some Republicans have long advocated, to permit sales of health insurance across state lines.
These are but a few examples among many and there would be countless more if we achieved a genuine free market system. But the truth is that both parties over the years share responsibility for shockingly higher health care costs and an all-too-inflexible system.
The GOP must share some of the blame for the cost spiral Obamacare has wrought for the past seven years. When Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House in 2003 to 2007, they could have passed many of the health care reforms they now advocate — most notably permitting nationwide shopping for health insurance and greatly expanding the eligibility for tax-free health savings accounts.
Had President George W. Bush and the GOP Congress done so, it's highly improbable that Obamacare would have seen the light of day. The same nationwide free-market competition that holds down car and auto insurance premiums would have a similar effect on health insurance premiums.
More patient consumerism and choice are what's needed, not Medicaid for all.