- - Thursday, April 5, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Americans will spend billions of dol- lars this year shopping online across state lines for everything from clothes to cars to family vacations. But unfortunately, one thing Americans won’t be able to buy online from other states is personal health insurance.

Even if another state has a health insurance plan that’s perfect for your family, you can’t buy it if you live in Tennessee.

According to a 2010 report, annual individual health insurance plans ranged from to $4,284 in New York to $3,384 in Maine and $1,956 in Arkansas, with the national average approximately $2,580. Because of our arcane health care regulations - an ad hoc holdover system of World War II wage and price controls - if you live in a high-premium state, you’re stuck with high premiums regardless of what health care plan best suits your needs.

One excuse we hear for denying competition among states is the paternalistic argument that it is “good for you.” But high-premium states cost more because they cover more services. If fact, over the past 30 years, some state governments have larded insurance requirements with 2,100 required services. Some states even require insurers to cover hair prosthesis, acupuncture and massage therapy. The current system, therefore, forces some people to pay for services that they don’t want and likely will never use.

This leads to the second bad argument for the status quo of denying consumers choice: We must spread around the costs to keep costs low for everybody. Contrary to liberal dogma, mandates increase rather than decrease costs by pricing the youngest and healthiest out of the market.

This is why I’ve proposed H.R. 371, the Health Care Choice Act of 2011. It’s also why 151 of my colleagues in Congress joined me in saying we cannot mandate our way to universal coverage.

First, H.R. 371 repeals Title 1 of Obamacare, which includes the individual mandate that requires every American citizen to purchase insurance.

Second, it ends the monopoly that denies New Yorkers and Rhode Islanders the low-cost insurance option available to Midwesterners and Southerners. Illness doesn’t have a ZIP code, and neither should your health insurance.

Consumers should have the option to purchase health care plans free of Cadillac luxuries they’ll never use. With close to 50 million uninsured Americans, a University of Minnesota study estimates that we could reduce that number by as many at 12 million, or almost 25 percent, simply by eliminating the ban on interstate purchase of coverage.

The president’s drive for mandates and taxes in industries such as health care, energy and telecommunications leads to the same bad medicine for America: higher premiums, increased costs at the pump, bigger home heating and electricity bills, and expensive cellphone and cable rates.

The president’s way is to sacrifice freedom and choice in order to engineer and control the free market, resulting in higher costs, less competition and reduced liberty. H.R. 371 provides the solution - pay less, insure more and expand freedom.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn is a Tennessee Republican.

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