Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan would have Americans shopping for their own coverage

Likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney is crafting his health care policy and examining the feasibility of a plan that would give Americans tax breaks in order to purchase their own health insurance coverage.

This position would provide many more options for consumers to choose from.

Some experts believe that providing incentives that allow Americans to shop for their health insurance would bring the benefits of market competition and actually help reduce the high cost of coverage.

This represents a dramatic change of direction for the former Massachusetts governor, who once signed into law that guaranteed coverage for all of his state’s residents and required that they purchase health insurance. The individual mandate of the Massachusetts law is quite similar to President Obama’s hotly debated national health plan. This will surely be fodder for the President’s campaign attack ads.

There are risks. The plan could discourage companies from offering insurance to their workers. Some 150 million Americans get insurance through their employers. Businesses that provide insurance also get a break because their contributions to their employees’ health plans aren’t taxed.

Romney wants greater consumer choice so that people can choose the plans they want and won’t be limited to just what their employers offer. It also would open up health care to the competitive pricing of the free market. Currently, Americans who purchase their own health coverage do not get tax breaks. Romney would also promote individuals and small businesses to band together and increase their purchasing power.

Additionally, Romney’s plan would enable seniors to shop for their own health insurance through vouchers instead of using Medicare. This would be a huge change to the federal program, which covers more than 45 million Americans over age 65. Medicare is a huge cost to the government as it covers basic health services, physician services, diagnostic tests, hospital care, preventive services and, as of 2006, a prescription drug benefit. The entitlement program represents about 12 percent of the Federal government’s total budget.

According to the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), when Medicare and other elderly health programs are included, spending in 2050 will equal 54.4 percent of taxable payroll. If this NCPA projection proves true, we have already pledged more than half the incomes of future workers just to cover benefits for the elderly already included under current law.

Clearly something has to change. However, altering the system to have senior citizens pay more for their health care is a political hot potato. It will be interesting to see if this is indeed the way Romney wants to go in an election year.

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