When the Free Market Rations Healthcare

Regular readers of the OC Register’s Orange Punch blog know how healthcare reform is described - government socialism that limits choice and will result in rationing of healthcare. But according to Sunday’s New York Times, it’s not the government’s healthcare reform package that’s limiting patient choice — it’s private insurers.

Back to the boys in Grand Ave for a moment.  Here’s some of their greatest hits on the socialist system of healthcare reform.  Here it’s called socialist medical care.  Here, it’s called “a referendum on what is increasingly an unpopular health care law, whose full economy-damaging effects are only now becoming known.” And here, it’s all about limiting choice and taking longer to get healthcare.

Ahhh, but what do those Libertarian columnists say when the invisible hand of the free market are actually the ones limiting healthcare options, reducing choices and, in effect, “rationing” healthcare via private healthcare insurance plans? 

From the New York Times story:

“As the Obama administration begins to enact the new national health care law, the country’s biggest insurers are promoting affordable plans with reduced premiums that require participants to use a narrower selection of doctors or hospitals

The tradeoff, they say, is that more Americans will be asked to pay higher prices for the privilege of choosing or keeping their own doctors if they are outside the new networks. That could come as a surprise to many who remember the repeated assurances from President Obama and other officials that consumers would retain a variety of health-care choices.

But companies may be able to reduce their premiums by as much as 15 percent, the insurers say, by offering the more limited plans.

“What we’re seeing is a definite uptick in interest because, quite frankly, affordability is the most pressing agenda item,” said Dr. Sam Ho, the chief medical officer for UnitedHealth’s health-care plans.

Many insurers also expect the plans to be popular with individuals and small businesses who will purchase coverage in the insurance exchanges, or marketplaces that are mandated under the new health care law and scheduled to take effect in 2014.

Tens of millions of everyday Americans will buy their coverage through those exchanges, a vast pool of new customers, including many of the previously uninsured, whom insurers expect will be willing to accept restrictions to get a better deal.

….

But choice — or at least choice that will not cost you — is likely to be increasingly scarce as health insurers and employers scramble to find ways of keep premiums from becoming unaffordable. Aetna, Cigna, the UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint are all trying out plans with limited networks.

The size of these networks is typically much smaller than traditional plans. In New York, for example, Aetna offers a narrow-network plan that has about half the doctors and two-thirds of the hospitals the insurer typically offers. People enrolled in this plan are covered only if they go to a doctor or hospital within the network, but insurers are also experimenting with plans that allow a patient to see someone outside the network but pay much more than they would in a traditional plan offering out-of-network benefits.”

So I have to ask the boys on Grand Avenue, when private insurance providers offer fewer choices of doctors, networks and care than what was originally proposed for the single payer option, is that “freedom?”  Or is it still about healthcare costs that have more than doubled in the last 10 years as part of that free market we should be willing to accept to keep government run “socialist” healthcare out of our daily lives?