The Market Can Fix the Healthcare Problem

New federal healthcare bureaucracy would make things worse, writes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

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Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, Newt Gingrich is founder of the Center for Health Transformation.

Is there anything in your life you think would be better if it were run by government bureaucrats? For most of us, the answer is a laughable "No."

Yet oddly, there is sympathy for turning over our most private, personal decisions, not to mention one sixth of our economy, to the same unresponsive, anti-entrepreneurial culture that gave us the response to Hurricane Katrina. Our two largest government-run health programs--Medicare and Medicaid--are on fiscal crash courses that make Social Security seem like a model of solvency. Steep benefit cuts or much higher taxes will be required to sustain them anywhere near their current form.

The dwindling number of doctors who accept Medicare patients resent politicians and government bureaucrats threatening their fees and meddling with their judgment. This has aided the rapid expansion of private "concierge" medicine for seniors who can afford it and for physicians who demand more than what Medicare offers. In the mid-1990s, Tennessee's Medicaid´nwª program went further than any other state toward the 1993 Hillary Clinton model of government-run healthcare. It proved so catastrophic that only the capable leadership of Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen--who profoundly scaled back the experiment--saved the state.

More government bureaucrats involved in your healthcare would be destructive. Other countries with similar systems face lengthy and often deadly waiting lists. That is the only way to ration unlimited demand in the face of static supply. Go to YouTube and view the short films of Stuart Browning for a flavor of the Canadian system.

Ask government-run healthcare advocates if they would ban all private contracting, which would make it illegal for you to purchase any healthcare service also covered by the government. Instead, you would have to wait in line for care--the length of that line and quality of that care notwithstanding. Horrifying, yes. But that was Canadian law until a 2005 decision by even its left-wing Supreme Court found that "access to a waiting list is not access to healthcare." If those advocates answer no, then they are allowing for what they claim to oppose--two-tiered healthcare where the rich use their money and connections to access one system, leaving everyone else to use the lower-quality, government-run one.

Market alternative. Proponents of government-run healthcare gain traction exploiting legitimate frustrations with our system, but opponents do not deserve a place in the debate if our only answer is no. We must offer a positive alternative where healthcare becomes more accessible and of higher quality at lower cost. That is what normal markets produce. Think computers and cellphones, where government bureaucrats have zero involvement in design and pricing.

A truly modernized, intelligent health system would focus on measurably improving health outcomes for all Americans. It would be ideologically agnostic about public or private initiatives and instead seek to scale up successful programs and discard those not producing results. A delivery system that allows private and public programs to flourish concurrently is more likely to yield new and better best practices to emulate elsewhere. Many best new practices offer specific financial rewards and incentives to individuals who achieve measurable progress in weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and eliminating tobacco use. Much of your health status is determined by choices you make. Smart health plans incentivize better choices so you are healthier and then share the savings with you. A modern system also will have 100 percent E-prescribing and electronic health records by a date certain. This will lead to better, more coordinated care with far fewer medical errors, thereby saving lives and money.

This new administration will rightfully start focusing on healthcare. Let us hope that those in power will not stifle innovation and choice. After all, federal bureaucrats, no matter how smart or well intentioned, simply cannot create the healthcare system of tomorrow. To let them try is a prescription for more headaches than we have today.

Corrected on 01/30: An earlier version of this article left out a short bio of Newt Gingrich. That information has been added.