Before I was elected to the Senate in 2010, I spent my career as an eye surgeon helping Kentuckians see better. I still perform free eye surgeries several times a year, including earlier this month in Louisville.
I approach my job serving Kentucky in the Senate just as I do in medicine — diagnose the problem and identify the cure.
Though the debate over accessible and affordable health care may appear to be a debate over health care, it is really a debate over what type of economic system delivers the care patients need at the best price. What our country has now is a system of government mandates and price controls, which looks nothing like a real market.
What we need is a true marketplace, where families can choose the coverage they need, not the coverage a bureaucrat in Washington thinks they need, and shop and negotiate for the best price. Unfortunately, Obamacare has done the opposite.
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Obamacare has been a disaster for health-care affordability in this country and it is only getting worse. First, the lie that if you liked your doctor you could keep them was exposed. Next, rising costs made it impossible for many employers to keep offering coverage, which forced many families into an Obamacare exchange.
Now we learn that the suffering in Kentucky will only continue to rise next year as more insurers leave the state, leaving many counties with only one option. On top of that are significant premium increases, including a 23 percent increase by the only statewide plan.
In my medical practice, I saw firsthand how competition can and does work in health care. Because LASIK surgery and contact lenses are largely free from government price controls and mandates, there is a true market. Patients can and do shop around for the most affordable option.
The price of LASIK surgery has dropped from thousands of dollars per eye to hundreds of dollars per eye, all while the technology has improved. And because my customers could easily pick up the phone and check on prices, I frequently had to match the price they got somewhere else to keep their business.
True competition in the market for health insurance will lower the price of insurance, but Obamacare has effectively outlawed cheap health insurance. By mandating the type of insurance people have to buy, Obamacare forces individuals and families to pay for coverage of things they don’t want or don’t need.
True freedom of choice would let patients buy any type of insurance they want, including inexpensive insurance. Shouldn’t every American get to decide whether they’d rather buy expensive insurance or save that money for the future?
We can go a step further though, by removing limits on Health Savings Accounts to allow anyone to contribute and expand what the money can be used for. Families can contribute to these accounts and claim a tax deduction, and they pay no taxes when using the money to pay health expenses.
As these savings grow, families will be better prepared to handle their medical expenses and are empowered to shop around and get the best price, enabling a marketplace similar to that for LASIK.
We know the current system isn’t working for families or health-care providers, so perhaps it’s time to try something new. I say we try freedom. More freedom to choose and innovate, leading to more access and affordability, which will help ensure our health-care system remains the best in the world.
Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, represents Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.