So many elements of the US healthcare system don’t make sense. Chief among them is the fact that our entire insurance apparatus is structured to respond to people once they’re already sick—instead of preventing illnesses in the first place.
Take the fact that many insurance plans cover chiropractors but not massage therapy. Massage therapy has often been painted as a luxury service, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it can improve immune functions, lower heart rates and blood pressure, improve circulation, prevent injuries, and reduce pain and stress. Those are major health benefits that could prevent dozens of expensive illnesses and injuries down the road, so why isn’t it covered as such?
Or consider the fact that most healthcare plans neglect to cover access to gyms or yoga studios. Heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans and costs our economy around $363 billion per year. Yet we do not invest in one of the top solutions for preventing it: exercise.
Similarly, according to Johns Hopkins, yoga offers incredible health benefits including pain and arthritis relief, increased heart health, and stress management. The practice’s benefits extend beyond the physical and offer mental health solutions as well, yet you almost never see it covered by insurance companies.
Services like massage therapy and yoga can be life-changing. (I can personally attest to the tremendous difference each has made on my own health and well-being). But the harsh truth is that lower and middle-class Americans often can’t afford these treatments.
If insurance companies were to offer holistic healthcare plans, it would stand to reason they would save lots of money in the process through a reduction in the care needed by their patients down the road. But such services are typically treated as “alternative” medicine and relegated to second-class status among healthcare options.
The reasons you don’t see holistic healthcare plans focused on wellness versus just treatment harken directly back to the government.
The government is heavily involved in healthcare and particularly in health insurance. Through regulations and laws, it requires insurers to cover many services that drive the cost of healthcare up (like making men pay for maternity coverage) and make it more expensive for the companies to ensure each individual. That means the companies are usually looking to cut services and conserve pennies elsewhere, and one way they can do that is by eliminating alternative or optional services from their plans.
All of this is the result of our government treating insurance companies as the customer—and protecting them from true competition in the market. They do this in part by forcing Americans into antiquated health insurance plans (legally tied to employment) that only provide benefits once a person is already sick.
And most on the Left (and even some on the Right) want to go further in this failed direction. Some want to do this through a single-payer system that directly nationalizes health insurance. Others advocate for a so-called “public option,” to “compete” (on unfair terms) with private health insurance, which would eventually be driven from the market entirely. Yet the end result is the same: expanding the power of corrupt health insurance companies and government control of the healthcare industry.
Instead, we need to move toward a system that makes consumers the customers. A system that utilizes market incentives to ensure people can access quality and affordable healthcare. A system that prioritizes the holistic wellness of the customer throughout their entire life, not just after they’re sick. This is what those of us who want free-market competition in healthcare are now calling the personal option.
What do policy changes in this direction look like? Here are a few ideas.
To start, we can expand access to healthcare savings accounts (HSA). These are tax-free savings accounts that allow the consumer to directly spend pre-tax dollars on their healthcare, giving them much more control over the services they receive. Currently, the majority of Americans are legally unable to access these accounts, but that’s something that could easily be changed with legislation.
Secondly, we need to remove regulations that block consumers from remote “telehealth” services.
Access to telehealth is life-saving for Americans in rural communities. What’s more, it cuts healthcare costs by reducing the time needed per patient.
In the same vein, we need to repeal certificate of need (CON) laws. These are anti-capitalist, protectionist laws on the books that limit the number of beds, healthcare facilities, and other medical care to keep prices artificially high.
Next, we need to make it easier for licensed medical professionals to work across state lines by reforming occupational licensing laws.
All of these reforms would move our healthcare system back to a free-market model that actually focuses on outcomes, instead of one that works to serve the interests of politicians and connected industry insiders.
Hannah is a media consultant for Americans for Prosperity which advocates for a personal option.