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Commentary: What to do about health care? Fix how people get insurance

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 9, 2009 - At Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri we believe strongly in the need for responsible health-care reform. And we're working very hard in a challenging environment to make sure that happens.

Our industry has come forward in an unprecedented way to support a number of proposals. Unfortunately, many are not receiving the attention that they should in the current debate.

We believe that the free market encourages the innovations that lead to greater value in American health care. Our industry can take aggressive action to solve a lot of the problems with our health-care system without the higher taxes and unintended consequences of the current proposed legislation.

* We need to improve how individual people buy health insurance in this country.

We believe that if we guarantee insurance to everyone, everyone must purchase coverage. Every person should be required to have health insurance. And that requirement should include a guarantee that everyone, including people with pre-existing conditions, will get coverage and not be excluded.

Now we know that not everyone can afford health insurance. So for those who can't afford it and aren't eligible for public programs, the government should offer assistance to help them purchase coverage.

* Anyone who buys coverage on their own should get the same tax treatment as someone who buys from their employer with pre-tax dollars. It's fair and it's important to making sure there are equal incentives for employers and individuals.

* We should be allowed to reward people who make healthy choices. It just makes sense to promote positive behaviors like not smoking, eating right and exercising.

* We need to make the most of the laws and programs already on the books.

Today 12 million uninsured Americans are eligible for some form of government assistance. But they are not getting that assistance. We need to make sure that they know how to enroll in and stay in programs that are designed to help them.

None of these reforms will be easy. But we've reached a point when businesses, government, patients and doctors have all said, "Enough. Now is the time to get this done."

We hear a lot about what's wrong with our health care system. But as we talk about reform, what we cannot forget is that American health care is still the envy of the world.

For all of its shortcomings, its flaws and imperfections, our system does a number of things very well.

It provides unrivaled flexibility, convenience and choice. The "one-size-fits-all" approach of the proposals in Congress does not meet the needs of American citizens. Age, family situation and economic status need to be taken into consideration so that consumers have a wide variety of options.

Our medical system is the center of innovation for the rest of the world as it offers the cutting edge of medicine and technology. Nowhere on earth is the power of medicine more promising than it is right here in America.

Together, we can improve American health care. And I believe that working together, we will. We can get reform right for our country, for our world, for our children, and for our future.

About the author

Dennis Matheis is president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri.