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Health Freedom Watch
September 2008

Contents:


Arizonans to Vote on Health-Freedom Ballot Initiative
By Sue A. Blevins

This November voters in Arizona will decide whether to amend their state constitution to protect their private health-insurance options.  According to the Arizona Secretary of State’s website, the ballot initiative known as “Proposition 101” would amend the state’s constitution “to provide that no law shall [emphasis added]:” 

  • “Restrict a person’s freedom to choose a private health care plan or system of their choice.”
  • “Interfere with a person’s or entity’s right to pay directly for lawful medical services.”
  • “Impose a penalty or fine, of any type, for choosing to obtain or decline health care coverage.”
  • “Impose a penalty or fine, of any type, for participation in any particular health care system or plan.” 

Supporters of the ballot initiative want to ensure that no health-reform scheme will strip them of their freedom to pay privately for health care.  Opponents are concerned that if the initiative passes, it could preclude mandatory socialized health insurance. 

I’ve been thinking about this and wondering:   

  • What’s wrong with preserving people’s freedom to choose and pay privately for their health care?
  • Should everyone have to give up their freedom in order to extend health insurance coverage to others? Can’t Americans extend coverage without destroying freedom?
  • Is the push for universal health care really about coverage or control?  Are promoters of universal health care trying to coerce everyone into a uniform system?
  • Why can’t advocates of universal health care work to ensure a true safety net for the uninsured, rather than create a trap that locks everyone into a one-size-fits-all system? 

Such a safety net could be created.  But it would mean forgoing the push for socializing or nationalizing our nation’s health care system. 

Arizonans soon will decide if they want to protect their freedom to maintain private health insurance and/or pay privately for health care. 

Sue A. Blevins is founder and president of the Institute for Health Freedom in Washington, D.C.

Sources:

  • Arizona Secretary of State.
  • “The Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act.”
  • “Controversial Measure Aims to Prevent Universal Health Care,” East Valley Tribune, July 8, 2008.
  • “Argument for Prop 101,” Medical Choice for Arizona, September 4, 2008.

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More Americans Seeking Health Information, Especially on the Internet
Education Level Remains Key in Likelihood of Seeking Health Information

In 2007, 56 percent of American adults—more than 122 million people—sought information about a personal health concern from a source other than their doctor, up from 38 percent, or 72 million people, in 2001, according to a national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). 

Consumers who actively researched health concerns widely reported positive impacts—more than half said the information changed their overall approach to maintaining their health, and four in five said that the information helped them to better understand how to treat an illness or condition, according to findings from HSC’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey, a nationally representative survey containing information on 18,000 people; the survey had a 43 percent response rate. 

Across all categories of age, education, income, race/ethnicity and health status, consumers increased their information seeking significantly, but education level remained the key factor in explaining how likely people are to seek health information. In 2007, for example, 72 percent of people with a graduate education sought health information, compared with 42 percent of those without a high school diploma. 

“Across the board, more Americans are seeking health information from sources other than their doctors, but despite the striking jump, there is still a significant minority—about 45 percent—who didn’t seek any information about a personal health concern during the past 12 months,” said Ha T. Tu, M.P.A., an HSC senior researcher and coauthor of the study with Genna R. Cohen, an HSC health research assistant. HSC is a nonpartisan health policy research organization funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the survey and the study.  

The study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Tracking Report—Striking Jump in Consumers Seeking Health Care Information—available here: http://hschange.org/CONTENT/1006/

Other key findings include: 

  • Use of all information sources rose substantially, but the proportion of Americans using the Internet as an information source grew the most rapidly, doubling from 16 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2007, according to the study. Consumers’ use of the Internet for health information is now on par with their use of the more traditional, longstanding sources of books, magazines and newspapers (33%) and friends or relatives (31%), which also increased significantly since 2001. 
  • Although elderly Americans sharply increased their information seeking, they still trail younger Americans by a substantial margin, especially in using Internet information sources. Nearly half of Americans 65 and older (48%) sought health information in 2007, up from 31 percent in 2001. Likewise, the proportion of seniors using the Internet to seek health information increased from 7 percent in 2001 to 18 percent in 2007. 
  • People with chronic conditions are more likely to seek health information. For example, two in three people with two or more chronic conditions (66%) sought health information in 2007, compared with one in two people without any chronic conditions (50%). 
  • After accounting for other personal characteristics, women are more likely than men, younger consumers are more likely than older consumers, whites and African Americans are more likely than Hispanics, and people with the highest incomes are more likely than those with the lowest incomes to seek health information. These differences, unlike education, are mostly modest to moderate in magnitude. 

Source:  Press release (reprinted in its entirety), “More Americans Seeking Health Information, Especially on the Internet,” distributed by the Center for Studying Health System Change, August 21, 2008:  www.hschange.org/CONTENT/1007

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Summary of Major Presidential Candidates’ Health-Care Reform Proposals

While the two major political parties agree that the nation’s health-care system needs major reform, their approaches differ greatly. 

In a recent Cato Institute briefing paper, “A Fork in the Road: Obama, McCain, and Health Care,” senior fellow Michael Tanner concludes that “Senator Obama’s approach relies heavily on government mandates, regulations and subsidies….In contrast, John McCain emphasizes consumer choice and greater competition in the health care industry….Senator McCain’s proposal is far from perfect, but from a free-market perspective, it appears superior to Senator Obama’s plan.” 

Obama's Plan Keeps Americans Linked to Employer-Based Health Insurance;
Proposes Clinton-Like Managed Competition

Tanner points out that “Senator Obama has said that if he were designing a health care system from scratch, his preference would be for a single-payer system ‘managed like Canada’s.’  However, given both the infrastructure of the existing system and the political opposition to a single-payer system, he has proposed a less radical approach while hoping that ‘it may be that we end up transitioning to such a system.’” 

If elected president, Obama would mandate employers to provide health insurance, thereby “further [locking] us into our current employer-based health care system,” notes Tanner.  He would also mandate parents to provide coverage for their children.  Tanner goes on to point out that Obama’s plan is based on the concept of “managed competition”—the same concept that formed the basis for the Clinton health plan in 1993, Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan in 2006, and more recently, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign proposal this year. 

McCain's Plan Offers Health-Insurance Tax Credits to Individuals and Families;
Proposes Across-State Competition for Health Insurance
 

In contrast to Obama’s support for Canadian-style health care, McCain says “the key to health care reform is to restore control to the patients themselves…. Families should be in charge of their health care dollars and have more control over care.” 

McCain’s plan calls for giving every family a direct refundable tax credit (effectively cash) for health insurance: $2,500 per individual and $5,000 per family annually.  They could use the money to supplement their existing employer-based health insurance plans or purchase insurance on their own.  He also favors letting families purchase health insurance across state lines and would work with governors to establish a “Guaranteed Access Plan” to cover people who have been denied health insurance.  Financial assistance would be available for individuals and families below a certain income level. 

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, asks, “Would you prefer a $5,000 tax credit toward buying a family health insurance policy and more competition among insurance providers (McCain), or a national public health care plan and additional regulation of insurance markets (Obama)?”  She emphasizes that “Americans know that health insurance needs to change to be easily accessible and portable, like auto and home insurance.  Do we get there through higher taxes and regulation, or by tax incentives and individual choice?” 

The American people will soon decide which path they wish to take regarding national health-care reform.  Given the major differences between the leading candidates’ plans, people should consider carefully how each of the plans would affect their freedom of choice and economic security for years to come. 

Sources:

  • “A Fork in the Road: Obama, McCain, and Health Care,” by Michael Tanner, Cato Briefing Paper No. 104, July 29, 2008.
  • “Health Care: To Tax or Not To Tax,” by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, New York Sun,September 10, 2008. 
  • Senator Barack Obama’s health-reform plan: (www.barackobama.com/pdf/issues/HealthCareFullPlan.pdf).
  • Senator John McCain’s health-reform plan: (www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/19ba2f1c-c03f-4ac2-8cd5-5cf2edb527cf.htm).

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Health Freedom Watch is published by the Insitute for Health Freedom. Editor: Sue Blevins; Assistant Editor: Deborah Grady. Copyright 2008 Institute for Health Freedom.