Our current health care system is not only complex, but a failure for millions of people. There are numerous factors that can affect the cost and quality of the care provided by doctors, hospitals and other health care workers. One example of this impact involves the type of payment system that is used.
A third-party payer system (whether the third party is governmental or private health insurance companies) can greatly affect the health care quality that you receive when you are injured or sick. Since the rules and regulations of insurance companies are constantly changing, the quality of health care can also vary. Research links physicians’ ability to address patients’ unique conditions to decreases in quality of care and increases in the cost.
The care you get from a doctor should be as individualized as you are, but assembly-line medicine dictates that doctors not spend (waste) more than 15 minutes trying to identify a problem and the most likely way to resolve it. The profit motive shifts the focus from healing to hurrying. “Time is money” isn’t just a cliché. It’s the American medical model.
When third-party payers enter the picture, the doctor-patient relationship is replaced by shortcuts to speed up production or, in this case, to move patients in and out of the office faster. If you’ve been around for a while, you just might remember a time when doctors could get off the assembly line. There was a time in this country when doctors actually made house calls. And, there once was a time, at least occasionally, when people bartered for health care by trading doctors the crops they grew for the knowledge doctors went to school to study.
If you could actually afford to pay the high cost of medical care today, would you get better health care? That probably depends on two things: the quality of the doctor providing care and how well you’ve prepared yourself to know whether the care you get is adequate. Since you can’t depend on the former, the best you can do is excel in the latter. The more you know about health, health care and what insurance companies are paying for it, the more likely you are to know when you’re getting a bad deal.
If you can’t afford to pay for your own health care, why not educate yourself about the health insurance you need to pay for? There’s only one type of health insurance that’s flexible enough to save you money when you don’t need a doctor, and still help out when you do. Health Savings Account plans combine tax deductions and premiums. When you start an HSA, you can deduct money you contribute to it from your adjusted gross income. Then, use any reduction in taxes to pay for health care you may need while you’re meeting the plan’s deductible. Yes, health savings accounts all have deductibles, but recommended preventive health care is not subject to a deductible.
An HSA, just like your life, only gets better with years. Over time you should build your HSA balance so you’re prepared to handle years when you do require health care that’s not covered until the plan’s deductible has been met. The balance does not have a “use it or lose it” feature so the balance rolls over year after year earning tax-free interest. If you’re very lucky, you can just let the balance grow so you can use it for expenses when you retire.
Wiley Long is President of HSA for America, and a passionate advocate for consumer-based solutions that will improve price transparency and lower health insurance and medical costs for people purchasing individual and family health insurance plans.