A couple of weeks ago, five Republican U.S. senators introduced what they're calling the "Every American Insured Health Act." It may not be a panacea for everything that ails us, but it's a healthy start.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the authors, is a medical doctor, so he knows as well as anyone this is an idea whose time has come. The proposal aims to allow all Americans access to affordable, high-quality health insurance through the free market. The idea is to get everyone insured, which should -- at least in theory -- lower health care costs for everyone.
The plan brushes up against the concept of "universal health care" -- about as close as America is likely get at this time, without a full-scale rebellion from pharmaceutical companies. Attempts to implement such sweeping reform have historically met with failure: Remember Hillary Clinton's botched campaign when her husband was in the White House?
This one, however, might be more palatable to the medical industry, which has over time come to realize it's pricing itself out of the market. There's no way to protect the viability of practitioners and cutting-edge research except through insurance, and the idea of inclusive, affordable policies is one tasty morsel politicians from both parties can sink their teeth into.
Coburn flatly admits most of the inequalities in the U.S. health care system have been created by "government and health insurance bureaucrats, and politicians." Since he's a part of at least two of these three groups, he knows from whence he speaks. He wants a flat-tax credit to give all Americans the freedom to choose the health care plan that works best for them, "not the plan that works best for their employer, a government bureaucrat or a politician in Washington, D.C."
The refundable, advanceable flat tax credit would be $2,160 per individual and $5,400 per family. The authors say it would end the "unfair discrimination" in the IRS tax code that only benefits health coverage offered by employers, and forces Americans to subsidize people with more costly health plans and higher incomes. In theory, the switch would tilt more equitably toward lower-income Americans, provided they could itemize their taxes to get the benefit.
The bill's supporters want to reverse the current cost shift in the health care market that drives up costs for all Americans. That can't be done without statewide insurance pools, and that's a critical part of the plan, especially when high-risk individuals begin shopping around for coverage.
Obviously the bill will go through some tampering before being finalized, but its authors might consider a couple more clauses, if they haven't already. How about rewards in the form of lower premiums for those who take steps to improve their health by, for instance, losing weight or quitting smoking? And if coverage is to be offered for mostly non-essential pharmaceuticals and procedures -- like facelifts or Viagra for the elderly, for instance -- then it should be priced accordingly.
It may take baby steps to fix our desperately ill health care system, but baby steps are better than pedaling backward. It's embarrassing when people in countries like Cuba have better access to health care than citizens of the world's only superpower.