by Holman W. Jenkins Jr.
Wall Street Journal

O Health-Care Leader, Where Art Thou?

Businesses are providing the leadership in reforming health care.  In just the last year, the number of large firms offering or planning to offer health savings accounts (HSAs) to their workers nearly doubled, from 14 to 26 percent, says the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins Jr.

HSAs allow insurance to get back to its classic role of paying for "catastrophic" medical bills while consumers save tax-free to cover routine medical costs and small emergencies.  The idea is not to "shift costs" from employers to employees -- employees would be kidding themselves to believe they don't pay for their own health care however the bill is served up.  But it does introduce an incentive to spend health dollars more wisely.

Other changes:

  • A dozen states have woken up and begun backing down from mandates that specified in detail what treatments and procedures insurance must cover, driving the cost of available policies out of sight.  One of them, Washington State, is home to LifeWise Health Plans, which signed up 12,000 individuals in the first quarter for plans combining HSAs with high-deductible insurance, nearly 60 percent of whom had previously been without health insurance.
  • Nationally, a million customers have now signed up for similar plans -- a doubling in six months.
  • A bipartisan duo in the House has introduced a bill to require hospitals to publish their prices, following similar steps in several states.
  • These are early moves -- very early -- in the right direction, towards a day when spending on health care is moderated by price-sensitive shoppers weighing benefits against costs, says Jenkins.

Until health care reformers find the courage to tackle the tax code, business will have to continue to provide default leadership in coping with the central malady of our health care economy, says Jenkins.

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