A bitter pill Featured

12:02pm EDT September 27, 2004
A friend who operates a consulting practice got a jolt recently when it came time to select her health care plan.

Rates have risen so much that she chose a less comprehensive plan than she's had in the past but she still faces a $50 a month increase. She has to come up with $415 a month just to cover herself, and pass the increase on to her clients or absorb it.

She's experienced increases before, "but this time, I'm really concerned," she tells me.

For businesses, the health cost spiral is a huge problem. In a global economy, it is a competitive issue. One expert told me recently that he wouldn't be surprised if employers begin to offer to cover annual health care cost increases in lieu of raises.

The solution? There's no magic bullet. Market-based remedies don't work, so don't expect an entrepreneur to come up with one. Because the problem is so pervasive, it requires that government take the leadership role to solve, or at least ease, the situation.

The obstacle there is that few politicians are willing to risk a career to do it. Whoever takes the lead will face brickbats from every powerful constituency with an interest in the outcome. Everyone will find an element they don't like in any viable plan.

I don't have the answer, and you probably don't, either, but it's certain that the Band-Aid approach we've taken until now won't work forever. I do know that if this problem isn't addressed, business people like you and my friend are going to be saddled with bills that threaten the very viability of their enterprises. My concern is that action will come only when the system is so broken that there isn't a bandage big enough to keep it from bleeding to death.

Some people look at the Canadian model or the British model, figure that those solutions are the only alternatives to what exists, and say, "Boy, aren't those lousy choices." But aren't we the smartest and most enterprising people in the world when it comes to devising solutions, and shouldn't we be setting our sights higher when it comes to solving any problem? Who says we have to be satisfied with accepting what someone else has devised?

We can do better. And we have to.