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Healthy Americans Mean A Healthy America

By Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee

We do not have a health care crisis in this country - we have a health crisis with a health care system incapable of dealing with it.

Consider the fact that 75% of the $2 trillion we spend on health care goes toward treating the symptoms of chronic disease, and not toward preventing disease in the first place. Imagine if we were to reverse that model by focusing on prevention, wellness, and early testing, all of which are undervalued and poorly supported today. We would save countless lives, pain and suffering by the victims of chronic conditions, and billions of dollars. Realizing this potential will not be easy. It will require a fundamental transformation of a health care system focused on acute care into one focused upon maximizing individual health as our first priority.

Our vision should be to have the healthiest people, not just the best health care, in the world.. With prevention and wellness as the cornerstone of our health policy, we can be number one in both.

For example, according to the World Health Organization, by not smoking, eating healthier diets, and exercising, we could prevent 40% of cancers, 80% of Type-2 diabetes, and 80% of heart disease and save hundreds of billions of dollars every year just from these prevention methods alone. But much more than money is at stake here. If we continue down our current path of ignoring the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles including poor diet and lack of exercise, one-third of our children will develop diabetes, a debilitating and deadly condition. For the first time in our history, a generation of Americans may have a life span shorter than that of their parents.

This does not have to be. We can create a health system that encourages better individual choices, drives down costs, and expands affordable insurance coverage to every American. We believe the surest way to do this is by empowering the consumer through the free market in health and health care.

Those who argue for Washington-controlled bureaucratic health care falsely claim that the free market is not working in health care. They are wrong. We currently don't have a free market in health care. Our current employer-based system, which was originally adopted as a way around wage and price controls during World War II, almost totally removes the consumer from normal free market practices. Consumers have been shielded from the true cost of care, as well as from decision making, and kept in the dark about price and quality. Consumers have virtually no incentive to seek out high-quality, low-cost care, which is the main reason why costs are perpetually on the rise.

Moving from an employer-based system to a Washington-controlled bureaucratic model would do nothing to change these flaws. A third party would still pay the bills, but worse yet, it would be the federal government. Before embracing Washington-controlled bureaucratic health care, Americans should consider whether they would trust their health and health care to the same federal government that failed so dramatically during Hurricane Katrina and continues to fail every day to control our borders, among other performance failures. Moreover, they should consider that they would be handing Washington politicians and bureaucrats control of nearly one-fifth of the American economy. Believing that federal bureaucrats are best equipped to manage the largest sector of our economy is pure fantasy.

The federal government has an egregious track record of substituting for the free market in aligning proper incentives and priorities, which is what our health system desperately needs. Just look at how the tax code penalizes marriage and savings. Another example is the history of the welfare state, where before the 1996 reforms, citizens were encouraged to stay at home rather than to work or go to school.

We are the most successful civilization in all of human history. Part of our success is based upon the fact that markets and incentives work. They are essential if we are to move from a health care system that fails to a health system that works.

A consumer-based health system means that Americans will be rewarded for making prevention and wellness a priority. They also will be rewarded with lower costs for their health insurance, just as safe drivers get lower rates on their auto insurance.

But most importantly, Americans will be healthier. Not only is this good news for Americans and their health but it is good news for health consumers. The reason is simple. The more Americans who choose a healthy lifestyle, the lowers America's healthcare costs. It is relatively inexpensive to stay healthy, while it is unsustainably expensive for large numbers of Americans to neglect their health and become seriously ill.

A consumer-based health system requires that public and private institutions be designed to empower and encourage consumers to make better choices. Reforms such as physical education five days a week in public schools or changes to the workplace that promote health, are also vital.

A consumer-based system will encourage providers to adopt health information technology that will enable them to provide the best and safest care. After all, in the free market, the best care will attract the most consumers to their practices. A market approach, with transparent costs and access to information about quality of care, will create the most choices of the highest quality at the lowest cost with the greatest convenience.

A consumer-based health system means that all Americans will have portable health insurance that belongs to them, not their employers, and cannot be lost when they change jobs, start their own businesses, or take time off to care for children or elderly parents. This means that all Americans will have the ability to open and fund a Health Savings Account, regardless of where they get their insurance.

We must enact transformational changes that move us away from Washington-controlled bureaucratic health care. By building a consumer-based system that focuses on health as our first priority, we will undoubtedly improve health, bring down acute care costs, and expand coverage to every American.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation. Mike Huckabee is the former governor of Arkansas and a Republican presidential candidate.

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