Ideas for the White House Health Care Summit:

More Choice and Individual Control Particularly Important for Women

In anticipation of this week’s White House Summit, many are offering their ideas for how policymakers can improve upon the current system. IWV would like to highlight a few reforms that would be particularly important for women.

In particular, women face unique challenges in the existing health care system: Today, health insurance is tied to employment, which means that women (who frequently take time out of the workforce and work in part-time positions that don’t include health benefits) often face disruptions in their coverage. Buying health insurance on the individual market (instead of through an employer) can often be costly and difficult.

Before considering how best to address this problem, it’s important to consider why the problem exists in the first place. Why is it that in the U.S. health insurance—unlike many other types of coverage, including car, life, and home/renters insurance—is linked to employment status?

The current, flawed system is largely the product of ill-conceived government policy. Right now, employers purchasing health insurance receive tax breaks while those purchasing in the individual market don’t. This is at the heart of the problems that plague today’s health care system. Those with employer-provided health insurance are shielded from the full costs of their coverage, encouraging the over-consumption of medical treatment and driving up costs for everyone. Those without coverage through employers are forced into the more expensive individual market, which discourages the healthiest from obtaining insurance on their own, which further drives up prices.

There are a number of ways that policymakers could address these problems and make the health care system work better for women. Here are three simple solutions that IWV believes should be seriously considered during the health care summit:

•End the Bias In Favor of Employer-Provided Care: Policymakers should reform the tax laws so that individual and employer-provided health insurance operate on a level playing field. This would make it easier for women to continue coverage when taking time out of the workforce, and make insurance more affordable for those who don’t receive health benefits through work.

• Allow Inter-State Competition for Health Insurance: Under current law, people can only buy health insurance from a provider within their state. Opening up the insurance market so that insurance could be purchased across state lines would provide individuals more options and lower costs.

• Eliminate—Don’t Add To—Costly Mandates: Individuals have different needs and preferences when it comes to insurance. Instead of new government mandates about what insurance policies must contain (which drive up costs), the government should allow insurance companies to offer a wide variety of options, from high deductible catastrophic plans to specialized, full-service plans.

What women don’t need is a trillion-dollar government plan that strangles private health insurance, discourages much-needed medical innovation, puts government in charge of determining the medical treatments, drives up the price of premiums, and adds to our already exploding deficit.

 Policymakers often talk about embracing big government reforms in order to help women. Yet women have much to lose in a one-size-fits-all, government controlled health care system and much to gain from moving toward a system of greater choice and more portable insurance. Our Representatives should focus on moving us in the right direction.