Better healthcare without the government

Comptroller General David Walker

TESS VIGELAND: There's certainly no time like the present to start thinking through our healthcare conundrum. Marketplace commentator and U.S. Comptroller General David Walker has one approach.


DAVID WALKER: The plain and simple truth is if we don't dramatically reform our healthcare system, it could bankrupt America.

In the end, Americans want unlimited healthcare so long as someone else will pay for it. This type of system is both unaffordable and unsustainable.

Here's one possible way forward. We could have the federal government take steps to ensure "basic and essential" healthcare for all Americans without having a government-run health system.

The federal government would pay for Americans to receive immunizations, preventative care, and protection against financial ruin due to a catastrophic illness or accident, while avoiding taxpayer-funded "heroic measures."

Beyond that, people of all ages would be able to acquire supplemental health care coverage through their employers or other groups.

Government would also take steps to assure that individuals have the opportunity to purchase additional healthcare at group rates. A person's level of coverage and own health habits would determine the premium they would have to pay for any supplemental coverage.

Yes, it will take years to make this type of dramatic reform a reality. But we need to quit throwing money at the problem and define what we want the future to look like today so we can take steps to achieve it over time.

Ultimately, we need to answer three key questions:

First, should we limit the percentage of the federal budget dedicated to healthcare costs and, if so, at what level? In the last 40 years alone, Medicare and Medicaid costs have grown from 1 percent to 19 percent of the federal budget.

Second, should the federal government take steps to assure that every American has basic and essential health care?

Finally, how can we make sure that the U.S. achieves consistently above-average healthcare results for an industrialized nation like ours?

Right now, we're zero for three in answering these key questions. I call that a strike out. We can and must do better.

VIGELAND: David Walker heads up the Government Accountability Office. His formal title is Comptroller General of the United States.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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