Selling Healthcare

SELLING HEALTHCARE….Steve Benen highlights this passage from a speech on healthcare that George Bush gave on Wednesday. He was trying to explain why Health Savings Accounts are supposedly better than traditional healthcare plans:

You show up, you got a traditional plan, you got your down payment, you pay a little co-pay, but you have no idea what the cost is. Somebody else pays it for you. And so there’s no reason at all to kind of worry about price. If somebody else is paying the bill, you just kind of ? hey, it seems like a pretty good deal.

….For many routine medical needs, HSAs mean you can shop around until you get the best treatment for the best price. In other words, it’s your money; you’re responsible for routine medical expenses….And so you ? you talk to your doctor, you say, can’t we find this drug at a little cheaper cost? Or you go to a specialist, maybe we can do this a little better ? old Joe does it for X, I’m going ? why don’t you try it for Y?

I met up with the New Republic’s Jon Cohn a couple of weeks ago while he was in town doing research for his forthcoming book on the American healthcare system, and both of us were baffled by the same thing that baffles Steve: what makes Bush think that this approach to healthcare is a political winner? Forget the substantive arguments against Health Savings Accounts and “consumer directed” healthcare. Instead, just look at how this sells.

Current system (for those with insurance): When you get sick you go to the doctor. When your kids get sick, they go to the doctor. You don’t have to quibble over costs or spend time second guessing your doctor over whether a test he recommends is really necessary. As Bush himself says, it seems like a pretty good deal.

Now here’s what Bush is trying to sell: When you get sick, you should spend a lot of time shopping around for doctors to find one you can afford. You should put off tests that he recommends if they’re expensive. You should haggle over the cost of drugs as if you were buying a used car. And when you get home you should worry about whether you made the right decision or not.

For now, forget about the substantive arguments in this debate. Pay no attention to Bush’s obvious lies that national healthcare plans in other countries routinely create long waiting times and low quality of care. Instead just ask yourself: Does Bush’s healthcare vision ? shopping around, haggling over costs, second guessing your doctor, worrying over your decisions ? sound like a winner? Who does he think is going to be excited by this?