As I have previously written, I was long ago convinced that free-market capitalism is the best provider of the best goods and services for the most people at the fairest prices. But there is one area where the free market comes up woefully short. That is in providing high quality health care at affordable prices in our antiquated fee-for-service health care system.

Conservatives are sold on the free market as a fair and just regulator of health care costs and quality. And liberals contend that health care is a basic human right and the government should make it affordable to all Americans. But as with other sticky questions, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. The optimum solution, of course, is universal access to good quality, affordable health care. But how might we accomplish that?

Health insurance companies make money because people get sick. But they make the most money from people who get sick the least. Therefore, they encourage the healthiest people to buy their policies even though the sickest ones they try to avoid need insurance the most. A vicious cycle can result here and in the absence of outside intervention the entire system can slow down and eventually fail.

It is a fact that Seventh Day Adventists and similar groups that promote healthy lifestyles have longer life expectancies, fewer health problems and require less care. But medical professionals have few incentives to encourage their patients to pursue healthier lifestyles. And because prevention is difficult to sell and the free market doesn’t incentivize it, it seldom gets much attention from health care professionals because it contributes little to their bottom line.

Most everyone knows that Americans can cross the border into Canada or Mexico and buy the same medications in the same bottles for half or less what they would pay in the U.S. When asked about this price disparity the pharmaceutical producers (“Big Pharma”) claim the higher domestic prices are necessary to cover the costs of research and development. That’s a falsehood worthy of The Donald himself. And why shouldn’t other countries share in our R&D costs? They certainly share in the benefits. Moreover, the U.S. government contributes tens of billions of dollars annually to medical research and development through the tax-supported National Institutes of Health. And much of this research is done in the laboratories of our tax-supported state universities. In our free-market economy the incentives of the market-place encourage innovations that lead to new and better products of all kinds. And in health care products especially the United States is the clear leader in innovation. But while many may attribute this to the free market system alone, the U.S. government (you and I) is footing a large part of the bill.

As the world’s wealthiest and one of the world’s most religious societies, is it immoral to allow sick Americans to suffer because they can’t afford proper healthcare? In our present system health care is still often denied to those who need it most. And we, the only major country still using a fee-for-service health care payment system, have by far the world’s most expensive care, almost twice as expensive as second-place France. We have a golden opportunity this November begin righting some of these wrongs.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bellsouth.net.

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