How about health care vouchers?

Many of you favor vouchers for primary education so why not for health care?  Ezekiel Emanuel and Victor Fuchs write:

We propose a system of universal health-care voucher that would provide every American under 65 a voucher for basic health services from a qualified insurance company or health plan. Participating health plans would have to guarantee enrollment and renewal for the risk-adjusted value of the voucher regardless of medical history. Those who enrolled would be free to choose among several basic insurance programs and health plans; those who failed to enroll would be assigned one.

People who wanted to purchase additional services or amenities, such as a wider choice of hospitals and specialists or more-comprehensive mental-health or dental services, could do so with their own after-tax dollars.

Where would the funding for the vouchers come from? From an earmarked VAT, or value-added tax. Earmarking creates a direct connection between benefit levels and the tax level: if the public wants more services to be covered, they must be willing to support a tax increase. A VAT is administratively efficient, cannot be easily evaded, and creates an approximate link between taxation and personal wealth.

Government itself would not administer medical services; the current private delivery system would be maintained. Health-insurance companies and health plans would continue to contract with physicians, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, pharmacies, and other providers for services to the individuals who enroll in their plans.

With universal health-care vouchers, employment-based insurance would probably fade away, and with it the lower wages, higher prices, and reduced employment that it brings. Critics across the political spectrum have noted the many shortcomings of employment-based insurance; few would mourn its passing. Medicaid and other means-tested programs would also become virtually obsolete as those covered were integrated into the mainstream health-care system. (Funding for long-term care such as nursing care would need to be continued.) As for Medicare, it could be phased out over time without forcing any existing beneficiary to switch to the voucher system. Importantly, current Medicare benefits would be supplemented by a tiered pharmacy benefit modeled on the one provided as part of the voucher program’s basic benefits package.

Management and oversight of the voucher program would be the responsibility of a federal health board modeled after the Federal Reserve Board, with multiple regional boards to facilitate implementation. It would define and periodically modify the basic benefits package, inform Americans about their health-care options, reimburse health plans, and collect data on patient satisfaction, quality of care, risk, and geographic adjustments for payments. It would also regularly report to Congress on the health-care system. The success of the voucher program would also be assessed by an independent institute, funded by a dedicated portion of the VAT, that would research the effectiveness and value of different interventions and treatments.

Here is the full argument, and another explanation, try here too.  Here is the write-up for RandDaniel Akst has put forward related ideas in The New York Times.  Here is another version of the plan

What is the main problem with this idea?  Is it that insurance companies would have to be so stringently regulated (otherwise they cut benefits for high-risk buyers) that this amounts to single-payer insurance with the companies as an extra shell and thus an extra cost layer on top?

Comments are open.