Whip the health care system into shape

Columnist : Albert Paschall

During this past long winter I’ve gotten to know the pizza delivery guy all too well. He can make it through the worst storms any time of the day or night and he has a got a menu that features cholesterol by the kiloton and I love it all. With the way the economy has been I’m putting in more hours at work than I ever have so I haven’t had much time to exercise and that’s not helping my waist line any.

But with summer coming I’ve got to do something to whip myself back in shape. I went over to a local health club and they gave me a free half hour. A half hour that was from physical fitness hell. When they told me how much it cost to join it almost matched my annual pizza and hoagie bill that like my waist line are getting too substantial.

But Lehigh Valley Congressman Pat Toomey has co-sponsored a bill in the US House that could really help me out.

Toomey’s Workforce Health Improvement Program called WHIP could make memberships in health clubs and aerobic dance classes a part of small business health care programs. It’s a complicated piece of legislation that would allow those businesses that can deduct the cost of health care benefits for their employees to also take a deduction for sponsoring all sorts of fitness clubs and dance studios. Everything from the YMCA to Jazzercise studios would become a tax break. And the Congress really intends to whip us into shape, no easy stuff like golf courses or yacht clubs are included. According to John McCarthy, the executive director of the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association that drafted the legislation what it is really intended to do is “extend the health benefits of exercise to as many Americans as we can.” Not to mention increased health club memberships.

That is if they have health benefits. In the last 2 years health insurance costs for Pennsylvania’s small businesses have soared by as much as 20%. Statewide averages have pegged coverage at $130 a month per person. For a family of four that’s over $6,000 a year. In a typical working year that’s $3 an hour just for health care costs and if the Governor is successful in raiding insurance companies’ reserve funds to pay for a medical malpractice band aid the rates will increase again this year.

While in large corporations some form of health care insurance is a standard benefit for too many small businesses the costs have skyrocketed well beyond affordability. According to Illinois Congressman Don Manzullo, “of the 41 million Americans without health care coverage, 60% work for small employers who can’t afford to supply them or their families with health care insurance.”

Small business owners, senior citizens, doctors and insurance companies are crying for reform of our health care delivery system. At best steps to have fair liability laws, uniform prescription prices and more competition in health care insurance would only hold the line on current costs and there’s nothing solid on the Congressional agenda that says that any of these reforms will be coming any time soon.

Right now this proposed break is a tax deduction. The problem with deductions is that the next time Congress wants new revenue they will become mandates. Some 24 million working Americans don’t have health care insurance and new mandates will only lock more people out. There are a lot of things that need to be whipped into shape in this country. The health care delivery system should be at the top of the list. The system is bloated, fraught with high risk liability and technological discrimination. If we don’t whip it into shape someday it’s going to die from its own abuses. Useless tinkering with the system in the tax code will only hasten its demise.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.
[email protected]