September 30 2009

The Right Health Care Fight For Women

Carrie L. Lukas

Women have much at stake in the debate about our health care system's future. Aspects of the current system put women at a particular disadvantage. Today, health insurance is tied to employment, which means that women (who frequently take time out of the workforce and work in part-time positions that don't include health benefits) often face disruptions in their coverage. Yet there are many ways to address this problem and many other problems that plague our current system without dramatically expanding the government's involvement in health care.

The current, flawed system is largely the product of ill-conceived government policy. Right now, employers purchasing health insurance receive tax breaks while those purchasing in the individual market don't. As a result, those with employer-provided health insurance are shielded from the full costs of their coverage, encouraging the over-consumption of medical treatment and driving up costs for everyone. Policymakers should begin reform by changing tax laws so that individual and employer-provided health insurance operate on a level playing field. Such a reform would make it easier for women to continue coverage when taking time out of the workforce, and make insurance more affordable for those who don't receive health benefits through work.

Price is a significant reason why many young, healthy women don't purchase insurance. Policymakers could make insurance less expensive through a number of small reforms. Under current law, people can only buy health insurance from a provider within their state. Opening up the insurance market so that insurance could be purchased across state lines would provide individuals more options and lower costs. Instead of new government mandates about what insurance policies must contain (which drive up costs), women should be free to choose among a variety of insurance options - from high deductible catastrophic plans to specialized, full-service plans - that meet their individual needs.

What women don't need is a trillion-dollar government plan that threatens to strangle private health insurance, discourage much-needed medical innovation, put government in charge of determining the medical treatments, and add to our already exploding deficit.

This is what is being proposed by the President and his Congressional allies. Creating a "public" option (or health insurance "cooperative") would put private insurance at a competitive disadvantage, encouraging many employers to drop private health insurance coverage. As a result, millions of Americans who today are privately insured would join the government rolls. As the government seeks to control costs, bureaucrats would be asked to determine what treatments are most "efficient." Inevitably, this would put some treatments out of bounds for patients. It could also discourage investment in new medical technology, since investors would face a new risk that government may decide that any new treatment isn't worth the costs. The risk simply isn't worth it

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