Brandon Hixon: Idaho needs free-market solutions for health care

GUEST OPINION: HEALTH CARE

February 14, 2014 

When I was campaigning for the very first time in 2012, tens of thousands of people were excited about my candidacy because of my innate ability to actively listen to the people whom I represent. They understood that I am an average, hard-working guy, not another retired millionaire wanting to get elected to the Idaho Legislature. I also promised my people that I would strive to be a level-headed statesman who would try hard to bring outside-the-box solutions. As legislators, we look at a wide array of issues. I have already worked on issues such as fully funding education, Second Amendment protection, cutting taxes for small businesses, reducing regulatory fees, job growth, and much more. Of all these issues, one stands out to me: the enormous burden of health care costs to Idaho’s hard-working families.

This is a very complicated problem, and it’s not easily remedied. If you are looking for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to reduce the price tag on health care, your time would be better spent wishing you would hit the jackpot tonight. The ACA will not solve the root problem of high costs for health care. Let me be very clear. We can’t fix the high cost of health care with more government subsidies.

I have seen how lopsided the relationship between buyer and seller is when it comes to health care — in favor of the seller. It is clearly a lack of knowledge that the patients have as to costs and services, plus the lack of leverage to bargain with providers. Add on top of that the sellers’ capability and motivation to place ludicrously high price tags on a wide array of items, ranging from an ordinary aspirin to ambulance rides. In furthering my research, I found that more than 36 states had adopted transparency legislation in one form or another. Even worse than that, 47 other states collect data from their hospitals. It is this year, my freshman term, that I decided to take decisive action.

Without reinventing the wheel, I have taken some very good existing transparency language from around the country and crafted the “Idaho Healthcare Transparency Act,” which would direct all hospitals and surgical centers to provide discharge data and other data sets as part of their Idaho licensing requirement. Idaho will engage in a bidding process to hire a private vendor to process the data. This vendor will also create a website and mobile application to disclose the average price for the top 50 most common inpatient and outpatient services, as well as the top 25 most common inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures. I have also updated the Idaho Medical Savings account statute.

This is a very simple formula. Transparency in pricing, plus Idaho tax-free money that anyone can accrue year over year without penalty, equals much-needed buying power for Idahoans. Why is this important? Because all hospitals and surgical centers in Idaho are being gifted many millions of dollars in sales tax and property tax breaks by the very same people who are going bankrupt in trying to keep up with sky-high health care costs.

Quite simply put, you cannot improve what you cannot measure. Idaho can do better than this. This will not solve the entire problem, but it is a step forward. In my mind the status quo is broken, and we need to fix it.

If you have questions or comments I can be contacted via my website at www.hixoninthehouse.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hixoninthehouse.

Hixon is state representative for District 10 (Caldwell/west Nampa).

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