- - Friday, July 6, 2012

Obamacare, in its effort to force everyone into a health insurance plan, is attempting to treat a symptom - the uninsured - rather than the cause of the problem.

I think everyone agrees there are far too many who want health insurance and can’t get it. But the truth is, the real problem isn’t with health insurance. The underlying cause is the rapidly increasing cost of health care.

Instead of forcing people into another big-government program that eliminates natural incentives to keep costs down, we should be focused on free-market reforms that make health care more affordable. With costs lowered, more people would have access to medical doctors and services, and we wouldn’t have to place another heavy burden on taxpayers to make it work.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s stunning pronouncement on Obamacare, all 50 governors face two big decisions:

1. Do we let the federal government impose a massive Medicaid expansion on us?
2. Do we establish a state insurance exchange or let the federal government come in and run it?

My answer is simple. No. We just can’t afford it.

Medicaid is the fastest-growing part of our state budget. And unlike the federal government, which isn’t required to balance its budget, we could only pay for expanding Medicaid by increasing taxes or cutting from other parts of the budget. Expanding Medicaid puts other vital government functions, such as education, public safety and infrastructure, at risk. That is not something I am willing to do.

History repeatedly has shown that the costs of many government health care programs far exceed early projections. This daunting reality is not unique to Florida. Washington acts as if it’s doing states a favor by covering the first few years of expanded Medicaid payments, but where does it think those tax dollars are coming from? Floridians, as well as taxpayers from every other state, are the ones footing the bill. Furthermore, once the responsibility begins to shift away from the federal government, states will be left to start picking up the tab, putting too much pressure on state budgets.

We already have safety-net programs that cover the needs of the most vulnerable in our state. But if we don’t implement a real solution to our health care and economic problems, there will never be enough programs to meet the demand. Since 2009, I’ve advocated a solution that implements four pillars of free-market reforms: choice, competition, accountability and personal responsibility.

Choice: Patients should be able to choose their own doctors. Providers should not force families to buy a plan with services they don’t intend to use. By giving every American a choice, providers are naturally forced to compete if they want to stay in business.

Competition: People should be allowed to buy a health insurance product across state lines, and they also should know the prices upfront. You wouldn’t buy a car or groceries without knowing the price, and you shouldn’t have to choose your health care services and providers without knowing how much it’s going to cost you. Patients should be able to easily find out the cost for services before they receive them.

Accountability: Government should be giving the same health insurance tax breaks to individuals that they give to employers. People should be able to own their own health plans.

Personal responsibility: Let’s reward people for taking care of themselves. Good drivers are rewarded with lower auto insurance policy rates. Life insurers give preferred rates for healthy lifestyles. The same should apply for health insurance.

As governor of the great state of Florida, I am committed to breaking the cycle of dependence on public assistance. As a person who lived in public housing as a child, I know that cycle can be broken. And I want all of us to have the chance to live our version of the American dream.

For this to happen, we need to focus on the real problem with our health care system, the costs. We need to reduce the high price of health care and help the unemployed get jobs so more people can afford the care they need and more employers can afford to offer health insurance. That’s what I’m focused on in Florida. The more opportunity we provide for people to get a quality education and a job, without raising their cost of living, the more we can improve the quality of life for everyone.

Rick Scott is the Republican governor of Florida.

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