Insurance mandates

Nothing gets a politician’s hands wringing more quickly than talk about health care costs. Oh, how lawmakers lament the plight of those who can’t afford health insurance, even if it’s subsidized by their employer. Especially during election season, incumbents and challengers alike promise to bring forward proposals that, they assure us, will make it cheaper for everyone to seek medical treatment.

Then, of course, they force mandate upon mandate upon insurers, create new regulations for physicians, pharmacists and hospitals and shove the snout of government farther into every facet of the marketplace, driving up costs with every reactive snort and squeal.

Just last year, even as Democrats in the Nevada Legislature vowed to emphasize affordability in reforming the state health care industry, lawmakers ordered insurers to cover prostate cancer screenings for men and cervical cancer vaccines for women, and tried to force citizens suffering from colds to obtain prescriptions for common cold remedies.

How, exactly, were these laws supposed to make health care cheaper? The cancer mandates alone compel Nevada insurers to cover millions of dollars in new claims each year, which will be passed along to policy holders through increased premiums and co-pays.

One state appears to have the right idea regarding cost-reducing reforms. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist persuaded his state’s legislature to take the opposite approach and allow insurers to offer bare-bones, catastrophic coverage exempt from more than 50 state mandates. By next year, Floridians who don’t need coverage for acupuncture, chiropractics, homeopathy and other special-interest frills will be able to purchase these plans for close to $100 per month.

This is what is derisively known among the left as a “market-based solution” to providing health coverage to the uninsured. As The Wall Street Journal noted in a Thursday editorial in support of Gov. Crist’s legislation: “When prices rise because of mandates, the less affluent are often forced to make an all-or-nothing choice between ‘Cadillac coverage,’ which involves just about everything, or going uninsured. In other words, they’re prohibited from buying the low-cost options that might be better suited to their needs.”

Despite this reality, Democrats continually push expansions in public health programs toward “universal” utopia. And every year, health care costs grow faster than the rate of inflation.

About a dozen other states are liberating insurers from mandates and allowing them to offer stripped-down coverage at significantly lower prices, either on a permanent or probationary basis. They make perfect sense because it’s not the $35 pharmacy expense or the $120 bill for a doctor’s visit that destroys an uninsured household’s finances — it’s getting stuck with a $10,000 bill for an emergency room visit.

Next year, the Legislature should crib Gov. Crist’s idea and give the free market a chance to meet a demand that they clearly can’t.

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