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North Idaho doctor pushes lawmakers for market-driven health solutions

North Idaho doctor pushes lawmakers for market-driven health solutions

Dustin Hurst
February 15, 2012
Dustin Hurst
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February 15, 2012

Dr. Loel Fenwick of Coeur d’Alene spent his life delivering babies in the maternity ward, but Tuesday in the Idaho Capitol, he was busy delivering his ideas for bringing down health care costs for Gem State residents.

Fenwick, in front of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said he believes consumers need to be more involved in health care decisions.

To bring costs down, Fenwick said, the state should work to develop what are essentially health savings accounts for private sector employees. Insurance carriers would house these policies, and employers would  contribute insurance premiums into accounts designated only for health spending, like physicals, doctor appointments and medication, among other things.

The cash accounts would be combined with high-deductible insurance policies, which would provide coverage for higher-cost procedures.

Switching over to the cash spending system, Fenwick says, would save as much as $1,350 a year per state resident in care costs for the state and its residents. According to his numbers, the cost of care for each Idahoan is about $5,600 a year.

Fenwick’s plan would also require service providers—doctors  and hospitals—to list the costs of procedures and products on public websites so consumers could be well-informed about health expenses.

The state should act quickly, Fenwick urged, because federal reforms, set to be fully implemented in 2014, will prevent states from tinkering with health insurance plans. “We won’t have people to use as a free market experiment,” Fenwick said. “We should have conducted it a long time ago.”

The state wouldn’t make a jump to the new health system immediately, however. Fenwick asked lawmakers to push for a pilot program first to show the public that the system would aid in cutting costs. “Just allow the pilot program to exist so we can try it out,” Fenwick said. “It’s a worthwhile investment for us to make as a state.”

Brent Regan of Coeur d’Alene, who introduced Fenwick, said that inviting more consumers to participate in the market while helping them make smart decisions would reduce unneeded tests and defensive medicine. “When something is free, people will take more than they need,” Regan told panel members. “When you don’t have any skin in the game, you don’t care what it costs.”

The cash accounts would also allow participants to take out a small percentage of the money each year, thereby creating an incentive to not use funds.

Fenwick also wants to put Medicaid and Medicare recipients on the cash account plan, but says federal regulations likely prevent that.

Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, is working on a bill to create cash health spending accounts, but his measure would apply only to state workers.

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