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COLUMN: Competition is a health care myth

Picture this. A woman at home is having chest pains. What is she supposed to do to save money? Call local hospitals to see who offers the cheapest angioplasty?

A man is in a car wreck. Bleeding profusely, he tells the ambulance to take him to Hospital B because they charge less for emergency services.

Those in the medical community are going to ridicule my examples but as far as competition, those scenarios hit the nail on the head. The average person has no mechanism to “shop around” for health care. It just can’t happen.

If I read another story about how competition will help cure the cost problems associated with our overblown and overhyped health care system I am going to go mad.

Of course, I better not, since neither my health insurance nor anyone else’s pays diddly for mental health services.

The three-headed demon made up of health insurers, physicians and pharmaceutical companies did its best over the past four years to bury the Affordable Care Act.

They said it is ineffective or, gasp, “socialized medicine.” Well,

guess what, so is Medicare and Medicaid. I wonder how many people complaining about the ACA felt like not accepting either of those.

And our current model, private health insurance, is also a form of socialism. You pay more to cover the people who don’t pay, even those who are covered by the same insurance company you rely on.

I appreciate the happy idea of competition cutting down on health care costs, but insurance companies and the medical industry have largely made sure they don’t have to compete for your dollar.

Much has been written over the past couple of years about allowing health insurers to sell policies across state lines, which advocates say will lower premiums.

But according to Georgia Health News, a nonprofit that tracks health care issues in the state, the Georgia General Assembly in 2011 passed a bill letting insurers sell any policies in Georgia that they offer in other states. According to GHN, not a single health insurer has done so. Not one.

Also, it should be pointed out that many insurers have dropped out of the marketplace exchange in Georgia created through the ACA.

You want ACA to be repealed?

More than half a million Georgians will lose their health care coverage if that happens. Of those, an estimated 10,000 aren’t receiving any subsidies at all to pay their premiums.

Sick people, without insurance, and people injured in wrecks, without insurance, will be going to the hospital. And you and I, directly or indirectly, will pay the cost.

“Buying a health insurance plan from Texas or Idaho isn’t going to solve the problem, and would leave consumers in Georgia with little recourse if they were treated unfairly by an insurance company based in another state or in cases of fraud,” Cindy Zeldin, executive director of consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future, told Georgia Health News.

Competition for health insurance might work if insurance is totally divorced from the workplace. If all people had to find and buy their own insurance, premium costs would inevitably go down or no one would have health insurance.

If insurers really had to compete, that could actually make providers compete, which is also largely a myth.

Call around to your local obstetrician’s office and ask what they charge to deliver a baby. First of all, they won’t or can’t tell you. Second, you won’t find a real variation in their charges. No one is competing.

Mike Colombo is managing editor of the Rome News-Tribune.