Guest Column: Hoping Congress comes up with healthy solutions

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By Julie Drake
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | Whew, 2017 is in the books. Time to put away holiday decorations and start a new year with new ambitions. Did you do the year end health insurance shuffle?
Come year end, we get out our health insurance statements and try to make sense of our deductibles. Have we met it? If yes, we quickly decide if there is anything we need to get done before the end of the year? You start thinking about the twinge in the knee, the nagging hernia, the chronic headaches. You shuffle your schedule and just hope you can get in with the doctor. If we aren’t even close to the deductible, we put off the nagging ailments until January, so maybe next year the deductible will be met.
Why do we have to play these stupid little games? When a health care need arises, shouldn’t we get it taken care of, regardless of the date on the calendar? Early detection and prevention is advised, after all.
Some say that a single-payer system is the answer to the health insurance mess. The favored argument is —Medicare recipients sure like their government health care. It has good coverage and is easy to use. Others say that free markets breed innovation, and competition ultimately drives down cost. I’m not sure which makes the most sense, and I deal with this on a daily basis!
Single payer advocates, could learn a lot by stopping by any medical billing office and see how complex communicating, understanding and billing Medicare can be. Try calling Medicare with a billing question—plan on devoting a whole day or maybe even a week to sitting by the phone waiting for a real person to answer your question, then plan on waiting another day or two for a nice, helpful one that really knows the answer to field your concern. We shudder in our office when a Medicare question comes up. However, calling Rocky Mountain HMO is a breeze because we know we will speak to a real person, with real answers every time.
On the other hand, the “free market” crowd should be prepared to answer … “How has the free market worked out for you in the past 20 years?” Have you seen any real innovation or declining costs? Sure it can, be argued that the free market has been hamstrung by red tape. But I believe innovation can conquer even the biggest piles of red tape.
What is the answer? I don’t have the silver bullet, but it seems like price/cost transparency, prevention, and incentives should be part of the discussion. Here’s hoping Congress will come up with some healthy solutions in 2018 and that each of you stay healthy as well.

Julie Drake

Julie Drake is the Director of Public Health for Rio Blanco County.