HSAs leave Americans SOL

Health care savings accounts are not a credible solution for the United States.

President George W. Bush’s attempt at offering hope and vision to the nation Tuesday was about as successful as the government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Among the self-congratulatory one-liners in the address were a few implausible solutions to the many problems facing this country, most notably, health care. More than 45 million people in the United States are uninsured. This number continues to grow and health care costs continue to rise. The nation spends one-sixth of its economy on health care ” the most money among comparable nations ” and yet it retains the lowest coverage. All the United States’ closest rivals have mandatory health-care systems rather than the employer-based model we cling to.

Under Bush’s proposal, the burden of lowering health care costs falls to the individual. This would be accomplished through health care savings accounts. Health care savings accounts are tax-free vehicles linked to high deductible insurance policies. Theoretically, health care savings accounts are designed to make citizens more prudent about health care because they would be spending more of their own money. The informed consumer would spur competition and therefore drive down costs. In reality, health care savings accounts would drive up health care costs because they would fragment the market.

Healthy people would have no incentive to save for sickness, leaving all costs for the sick. People would stop seeking preventive care and wait until they are extremely sick to receive care ” another factor that would drive up costs. Most importantly, health care savings accounts are not a credible solution because they do nothing to address access to care, the uninsured and the quality of care.

In every State of the Union address since the beginning of his presidency, Bush has promised to do something about health care, and he has; the number of uninsured citizens has risen by 5.5 million since he took office. Bush should listen to what a majority of the nation wants. The time for universal coverage in the United States is long overdue.