Latinos deserve better health and insurance coverage

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Israel Ortega

America possibly offers some of the best healthcare systems in the world. But doctor appointments are still too hard to make. Certain prescription drugs are too expensive. Prices are opaque. And finding the right care and coverage is confusing, making shopping almost impossible. Inflation has exacerbated all of these stresses, and each one hits America’s Hispanic community particularly hard.

Latinos are more than three times as likely to be uninsured as whites. They suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases, have less access to medical care and suffer worse health outcomes. The lower incomes of Latin American families make them more vulnerable to high drug costs and they even have less access to telemedicine services.

In Washington, such problems are cited as reasons for the government to exert more power over the healthcare system. But in any case, it is the patients who lack power and who bear the brunt of ill-conceived public policies.

None of this is lost to Latinos, many of whom have migrated with their families from countries where government-controlled health care affects the quality of life.

Rather than empowering Washington, true healthcare reform should empower everyone else: patients, families, workers and small businesses, doctors and nurses. We don’t need deposit systems like the “Public Option”.

We need a personal option for health care, especially reforms to expand access to health care, lower prices, end surprises and strengthen safety nets for those most in need.

All share these aspirations. But only reforms that give patients more cost certainty and control over their care can achieve them. Government control drives up prices, as do tuition fees and hospital bills. It also restricts access, as with the rationing of care and unbearable wait times in countries with single-payer healthcare systems.

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In contrast, consumer empowerment and competition drive quality improvements and drive prices down. Look at how affordable TVs and cell phones are today despite being more technologically advanced than ever.

It has nothing to do with corporate greed or compassion – it’s just the incentives they face when consumers have choice and competitors are free.

The Personal Option Healthcare Reform platform would set such incentives in the healthcare system.

First, it means expanding Americans’ access to tax-free health savings accounts — which only 10 percent of Americans can now get — and then expanding the categories of health care expenses that the health savings accounts can pay for.

Second, the COVID-19 emergency has shown how well healthcare can be provided remotely. It also showed how much better the Food and Drug Administration can serve patients by streamlining drug approval processes and allowing the use of “off-label” prescription therapies. Rather than “going back” to the old pre-pandemic rules, Congress should make these COVID-era reforms permanent.

Next, we should encourage healthcare providers to compete with these consumers in new and innovative ways, as we empower patients to seek and pay for care in the way that suits them best.

The government should not limit the number of hospitals or prohibit doctors and nurses from owning them. Congress should allow Americans access to prescription drugs approved by other nations we trust. And states should remove regulatory barriers so that medical professionals can provide medical care across state borders, including via telemedicine.

Finally, in this environment of innovation and competition, Congress should restore today’s overgrown and fraud-prone Medicaid program to its original mission as a safety net for the truly vulnerable.

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The Latino community suffers disproportionately from the current system’s access, pricing and transparency issues. They will benefit disproportionately from personalized healthcare reforms that put patients and doctors in charge of our medical decisions, rather than government.

For Latinos and all patients, it’s time for American healthcare to move from the best in the world to the best it can be.

Israel Ortega is a spokesperson for the LIBRE initiative.