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National health care?

December 16, 2004

Doctors aren't the only ones facing increases in their insurance. The Associated Press reports that the Geisinger Health Plan, which covers about 158,000 members in Pennsylvania, has filed for a 20 percent rate increase for 2005.

The increase would add $462 a year to the average member's bill and is necessary, Geisinger officials said, because the cost of health care is increasing faster than insurance premiums.

The AP quotes the Kaiser Family Foundation as saying that insurance costs have increased by at least 10 percent for the past four years. The AP didn't say it, but we will - there's got to be a limit, or at least a strong curb, on additional increases.

To do that, the nation has to get at the root causes of these hikes, because this is not just a Pennsylvania problem, but a nationwide dilemma.

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Doctors who have been interviewed in relation to the malpractice-insurance crisis have told The Herald-Mail that out of fear of being sued, they perform more tests than would otherwsie be necessary for patients' health.

That's why someone with a migraine headache ends up getting an MRI or a CAT scan.

Then there's the bureaucracy involved. Both doctors and insurance companies employ an army of people to track their billings and make rulings about whether this or that procedure is covered or whether a patient's deductible has been met for the year.

Health-maintenance organizations were supposed to solve some of this by introducing more competition and holding down prices by giving doctors only a set amount for procedures.

That reduced doctors' incomes without solving their insurance problems. For many doctors, the only possible answer was to see more patients, each of whom had to have more tests.

It is time to once again look at national health care. Just as going to the moon provided many unanticipated benefits - new inventions useful in daily life on Earth - studying the health-care problem should at least yield some partial solutions.

The alternative - continuing to swallow the increases - is not acceptable.

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