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Home > Opinion-Editorials: 2006
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California's Danger to Health

By Richard E. Ralston
February 1, 2006

The California Department of Insurance issued a press release and a new report on January 31 calling attention to an imminent danger to our health. Is it the threat of a bird flu pandemic that has drawn the attention of Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi? Or HIV and AIDS? Or is the danger in the ability of the health care establishment in California to respond to a Katrina-scale natural disaster such as a major earthquake? No, the danger is none of these things. What keeps the insurance commissioner awake at nights is Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). That's right, savings accounts.

The increasing number and popularity of HSAs has resulted in near panic in the offices of the insurance commissioner of California. His ongoing crusade for a complete government takeover of all health care in California has now resulted in a new report, "Dangerous Prescription," which concentrates its fire as a "cautionary report on the dangers of Health Savings Accounts." They are a danger, but only to those who see them as a threat to government micro-management of medicine.

What is the basis for this alarm? Alas, the report states, the research is preliminary. In other words, the report is not based on any data, but "finds that risks posed by HSAs are clear on a conceptual level." In other words, without research the report is free to make the "dangers" up.

A major supposed "danger" is that these accounts and the tax savings they provide only benefit the wealthy. Is that a "clear" concept? We all know that only the wealthy pay taxes, right? This is obviously absurd. If you are wealthy and work for a large corporation, you get your health insurance tax-free. If you are really wealthy, the modest break on a couple of thousand dollars going into an HSA is not worth the time and paperwork for a millionaire. HSAs are very helpful for the self-employed, or employees of small business or many others who struggle to meet their own insurance needs.

Another "danger" is that people will avoid needed health care rather than spend money out of their own savings. This, like all of the other assertions in the report, is not based on facts. The "clear" concept here is that the wealthy people who have HSAs will not spend their money for their own health care. The only possible solution to this danger is to spend public money to force unwanted health care on wealthy people. Are we all clear on that?

Another "conceptual" objection is that HSAs do not offer needed help to the uninsured. Obviously. But how will it help the uninsured to make it difficult or impossible for most people to afford insurance? Eliminating HSAs will put insurance out of reach for many more people.

The most appalling supposed "danger" is the assertion that consumers do not have the necessary information to make their own decisions about quality health care. Then who does? The all-knowing insurance commissioner? The assertion that the government knows best, and that the government should make your health care decisions for you is the real danger to be taken from the commissioner's report. By the way, if the Department of Insurance has the necessary information on health care quality, why not make it available to us?

The foundation of this "conceptual" reasoning is the illusory promise of a "right to health care." What politicians who talk about this usually mean is that health care must be forbidden—that no one has the right to any health care unless it comes from government.

The only "danger," therefore, if you have an HSA, is you—to the politicians who fear anyone who takes responsibility for their own health care and that of their families. They want you to have to depend upon them for your health care. They want to decide exactly what health care you get. In taking away HSAs, their objective is to eliminate the "danger" that you might be able to take care of yourself. Don't let anyone take that "danger" away.

Richard E. Ralston is Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine.


Copyright © 2006 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.
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