THEIR VIEW: Solving our health care woes

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 17, 2008

CHARLESTON -- Health care will be a major topic for not only the federal government in the coming year, but also West Virginia state government.

We need to focus the discussion on three things: affordability, availability, and portability.

To achieve these goals, we must examine solutions that give people more control over their own health care and give people more choices and flexibility, not one-size-fits-all, government mandated, government run solutions.

Below, I describe three solutions to achieve these three goals of affordability, availability, and portability. With the help of Delegate Daryl Cowles, we hope to build a strong case in the coming months for these key reforms. Delegate Cowles also helped with this column.

The three solutions below will do three significant things to our health care system: 1) increase affordability of health insurance and health care, 2) increase availability of health insurance and health care, and 3) increase the portability of health insurance benefits.

1) Affordability -- Enact a tax credit up to $8,000 for purchasing health insurance directly. Health insurance costs are taking up more and more of family budgets and the cost of health care is outpacing the rate of wage growth and inflation. In order to increase the affordability of health insurance and health care, we need to enact a tax credit for purchasing health insurance directly.

In West Virginia, we can give our citizens an $8,000 tax credit. Allowing people to receive a tax credit for purchasing health insurance directly will reduce the burden of health care costs tremendously.

2) Availability –- Allow people to "opt out" of the state's "menu of mandates". If you have a pre-existing condition, health insurance may be so unaffordable you never purchase it. For instance, you may not be able to afford health insurance because of your past kidney disease, but you want coverage in case you have cancer or a heart attack.

Due to a state mandate requiring all health insurance plans to cover kidney disease, you cannot "opt out" of the kidney disease coverage in order to get coverage for cancer and heart attacks. Allowing people to "opt out" of the coverage of their choosing from the state's "menu of mandates" will make health insurance more available.

3) Portability –- Encourage greater use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). HSAs are a new type of health insurance plan that couple a high deductible health insurance policy with an IRA/401-k style of savings and investment account. They are catching on in the private sector after being created in 2003. About 20 percent of the health insurance market is HSA plans, and the use grows every year.

HSAs have a triple tax advantage: contributions to the HSA are tax deductible, health care expenditures from the HSA are tax exempt, and the earnings on your HSA deposits are tax free. HSA plans cost on average 50 percent less than other health plans, they encourage personal wellness and responsibility, and your HSA deposits and earnings are portable from job to job.

Each of the above solutions will make health insurance and health care more affordable, more available, and more portable. These solutions do all of this not by raising taxes, government mandates, and cutting benefits, but by giving you more of your own money to make your own decisions about your own health care.

In the end, we know what is best for our own health care, not the government.

Miller, R-Berkeley, represents the 53rd Delegrate District -- the southern part of Berkeley County -- in the state House of Delegates.

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