President Bush has zeroed in on the key weakness of the American health care system: the inequitable and unfair federal tax treatment of health insurance.
If Americans cannot get health coverage through the job, then they get no tax break at all on the purchase of their health insurance, forcing them to pay much more than they would if they had job-based health care coverage. Today’s tax system not only undermines the access of millions of Americans to health care, but it also fuels higher health care costs.
By reforming the tax treatment of health insurance, the President is taking a big step toward expanding private health coverage for millions of Americans, while reducing the burden on taxpayers and hospitals who today provide free care to the uninsured.
The President has made a number of other proposals to improve the health care system, but the second key proposal is to expand competition in the health insurance market by allowing individuals and families to purchase health coverage across state lines. The state health insurance markets are mostly dysfunctional, industrial age dinosaurs; these markets are largely insulated from real consumer choice and are often dominated by a few big insurance companies. In every other sector of the economy, Americans can get what they want, and pay what they want to pay, for goods and services anywhere in the country. They should be able to do the same in health care.
The President has proposed sound policy. It is up to the Congress to act on these common-sense improvements. Under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, Congress has two specific responsibilities that have a direct bearing on the improvement of our health care system: to make sound tax policy and to promote interstate commerce. Congress can make health insurance accessible and affordable for millions of Americans. All the Congress has to do is to follow the Constitution and do its job.