Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius writes in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution about the immediate need for health care reform and urges Congress to pass legislation.  Here are the three basic reforms the Secretary wants:

First, we need to slow the growth of rising health care costs for families, businesses, and government, so that workers can start getting raises again, companies can start growing, and we can finally start bringing down the deficit.

Second, we need to strengthen insurance for the Americans who already have it. That means creating new rules for insurance companies to stop them from putting an artificial cap on your benefits or canceling your policy when you get sick.

Third, we need to make affordable coverage available to every American. Markets work, but only when there’s competition and real choices. So we need to create a health insurance market where every American has quality, affordable options.

Let me take a moment to respond to Sebelius.

I agree we need to “slow the growth of rising health care costs.”  That’s why we ought to encourage real competition in the insurance market.  Sebelius leads with an anecdote about Californians who have Anthem Blue Cross insurance.  According to Sebelius, these individuals face a dramatic increase in their premiums – up to 39% next year.  While CA Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has recommended lower rate increases, I can certainly sympathize with those individuals who are facing any premium hikes.  But this is a perfect example of how a little competition can go a long way to driving down prices.  Just imagine if all those Anthem Blue Cross customers could suddenly look to Nevada or Oregon – or Florida, even! – for their health insurance. What would that do to health care costs?

Next, I agree “we need to strengthen insurance for the Americans who already have it.”  That’s why I’d like to see all Americans own their health insurance.  We have an archaic system in place in which our health care is tied to our place of employment. This is a particularly inefficient and unreliable system.  That’s why it would seem ridiculous if we suggested buying our car insurance, for instance, through our job.  Why doesn’t Congress encourage the expansion of high-deductible insurance plans and health savings accounts, so if in a down economy you lose your job, you don’t lose your insurance.

Her last point – “we need to make affordable coverage available to every American” – is interesting.  It’s not the government’s responsibility to provide health care to its citizens. Contrary to what many will say, health care is not a right. Let me explain. In order to give health care to everyone, we must demand a service or a product or a treatment from someone else.  Rights for one person cannot be based on taking something away from another person.  We are a compassionate and wealthy society, and that’s the reason we want to make sure everyone has access to health care. But let’s be clear: providing everyone with health insurance is not the same as providing everyone with quality care. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Providing everyone with insurance, as Sebelius would like, will result in rationing, the deterioration of care, and a decline in quality research and development. 

Sebelius sees the need for sweeping legislation that would put government in charge of health care.  Why not make marginal changes like the ones I mentioned above? What about medical malpractice reform? And what about giving individuals the same tax benefits as corporations, so more people can purchase health care on their own? These are real reforms that don’t require the government getting into the business of health care.