Resuming our discussion of low/no cost common ground for Congressional Democrats and Republicans to kick-start bipartisan health care reform.

Overturn federal ban on

negotiating pharma prices

To add prescription coverage to Medicare, during the first term of President George W. Bush, the Medicare Reform Act of 2003 banned negotiating pharmaceutical prices with drug manufacturers for all state and federal governments. The U.S. government is the largest purchaser of prescription drugs in the world. U.S. consumers on average pay 3-4 times higher prices for many drugs than neighboring countries as well as the entire developing world. Very successful lobbying led by former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana allows the pharmaceutical industry to dictate pricing, without negotiation or competition or other market forces at play. Drugmakers contend that the healthy industry profits which result are plowed back into research and development of the next round of blockbuster drugs, treatments and cures. Some of that may be true, but U.S. consumers pay 40 more than Canadians, the next largest purchaser of pharmaceutical products.

Repeal the ban on price negotiations, overnight causing the largest customer of pharmaceutical products to begin shopping and comparison pricing, and watch costs drop overnight.

Incentivize innovation with the tax code

Instead of artificially high drug pricing, use the corporate and personal income tax codes to incent research and innovation. Incentivize small businesses, individuals and employers to form or join insurance buying cooperatives and trade associations to purchase insurance in bulk.

My nearly retirement age parents purchased insurance very affordable and effectively through a small business cooperative offered by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross/Blue Shield for more than a decade.

Consider small insurance premium taxes and fees which fund risk pools for the under and uninsured, in much the same fashion as we are all now required to pay additional premium to cover for uninsured motorists. With most all making a modest contribution, over time, billions have a way of piling up.

Encourage faith-based buying cooperatives like Medi-share, now covering all the medical expenses of more than 300,000 Americans. Medi-share is not insurance. Member families are making monthly plan payment contributions and sharing medical expenses for all members of the group.

Preventative and

alternative care

Staying healthy through proper diet, exercise and the use of much lower cost alternative care, such as chiropractic, osetopathic and acupuncture are each much less expensive than traditional medical care.

Diabetes, obesity and heart disease are three of the most chronic and expensive medical conditions to provide ongoing treatment for. Preventing the onset of such diseases could save health care systems billions, as well as adding decades to the quality of life of healthier consumers.

Capitated care, Concierge medicine and employer sponsored clinics

Some private practice physicians, as well as a limited number of health care systems and hospitals are offering ‘capitated’ direct cash payment plans, instead of insurance, where monthly direct payments are made in exchange for defined benefits and health care services.

Complimented with either supplemental health coverage, or catastrophic care coverage (both comparatively affordable), allow the providers to offer lower prices, without the paperwork hassles and cash flow challenges today plaguing modern medicine.

Our nation is also in the midst of an ongoing shortage of doctors, nurses and specialists in an ever growing number of categories. The expense and student loans often required to complete medical studies and residency are now met on the back end with much lower pay and much greater difficulty in focusing on the patients, versus the insurance and the business end of health care.

Medical and nursing school applications are down, while the aging Baby Boomer population retires and health care demand soars. Our nation has been importing a healthy percentage of our medical professional population from other countries, via Green Cards and HB-1 Visas. This too needs revisitation, given the coming shifts in Immigration law and policy, if or until the U.S. medical markets begin to produce more physicians and nurses. The best advice I can give you...stay healthy.

Bill Crane is a senior communications strategist who began his career in broadcasting and has worked at the state capitol and in Washington in both political parties. Contact him at bill.csicrane@gmail.com.

More from this section