Don't sicken our health care system

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
August 5, 2007

After the failure of then first lady Hillary Clinton's health care task force in 1993, the notion of national health care was considered political baggage. The topic seemed radioactive; no one wanted to touch it.

Four presidential campaigns later, the tide has turned. Candidates from both parties no longer treat possible changes in health care financing as taboo. Even Tennessee Senator Bob Corker got in on the act this week, introducing his 'Every American Insured Health Act.' The topic is complex, has multiple stakeholders and will likely be decided by monetary, not medical issues.

My first hope is that politicians won't mess up the existing state of health care for the vast majority of Americans. A close second is that any changes to the government's involvement in paying for health care won't make a mockery out of our system of capitalism.

Based on the actions and comments of the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, I'm not hopeful. For most of two decades, California Congressman Fortney 'Pete' Stark (D-CA) has been outspoken on medical issues. He has recently criticized agreements between physicians and patients in which individuals pay an annual fee for greater access to their doctors.

These arrangements are nothing more than contracts between private parties. But critics see the plans as unfair.

In a typical 'concierge' or 'boutique' plan, a person might pay $100 a month for weekend and overnight access to the doctor, an annual physical, prompt treatment at scheduled appointment times and extended consultations in the exam room.

Critics like Congressman Stark charge that these types of plans provide better care to those who can afford it. Not everyone has an extra $1,000 for such an extravagance.

Yet it's fairly common for families to pay $1,000 a year for automobile insurance. Or $3,600 a year for payments on a modest car.

Multiple debates are occurring simultaneously. Should medical insurance be attached to a person's employment? Should it be portable, like automobile insurance? Who really pays for a person's insurance now? Who should pay for the medical costs of people without insurance? Should there be a universal list of medical expenses that all polices cover, regardless of who pays for it?

At the core of these questions, however, is a more basic question: Is there a difference between health care and medical insurance? Should the terms of an insurance policy define the limits of health care for all Americans?

Congressman Stark has charged that physicians who offer concierge plans violate Medicare laws.

He has introduced a constitutional amendment establishing a right to 'health care of equal high quality for every American.' If one person can afford a boutique plan, then everyone should have it. If I want to pay to go to the dentist every week and be checked for cavities, I suppose everyone else should, too.

Hopefully, people wiser than me will decide the answers.

But in so doing, they will harm all Americans if they attempt to punish or penalize those who choose to extend beyond the mainstream.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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