The Private Sector Picks Up the Tab

John J. Walters Aug 22, 2012

A tip of the cap to Jay Hancock for sending me an email about his most recent article on the latest way Maryland is costing you more money each and every year. After Hancock left The Sun early this year, I had missed his clear thinking and regular updates on – as he put it – the “slow-motion fiscal trainwreck” that is modern politics. It’s good to see his writing again.

It’s funny how the way you word things can make all the difference. If politicians want to talk about tax increases without upsetting people, they talk about “revenue enhancements” or maybe “closing loopholes in the tax code.” In this case, the magic phrase is “rebalancing.”

Right now, when someone with Medicare or Medicaid visits a Maryland hospital, the federal government pays for part of that visit. And then you and I, in the private sector, pay for the rest of it through higher prices for medical services. That’s the balance. What our hospital regulators are seeking to do is “rebalance” things, placing less of a financial burden on the federal government and more of a burden on private insurance companies.

Good! You might be rejoicing. We pay a lot of money to those insurance companies. Time for them to start pulling their weight. But just remember who funds the insurance companies. We do – either by forfeiting money to our employer or by purchasing a policy directly. And we are fooling ourselves if we think that they won’t pass the extra expense onto us.

As Hancock points out:

Once phased in, the plan would raise charges for commercial insurers and their customers by about $350 million a year and increase their price for a typical hospital admission by $900 — in addition to underlying health-care inflation.

An average Maryland resident like myself seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one. I pay my taxes, which means that I’m contributing to Medicare and Medicaid. Obviously, it would be preferable to have to contribute as little as possible. But I also pay for my health insurance, which means I will be off-setting the decrease in Medicare/Medicaid funding that is likely to come. Either way, I pay more.

And all this is in addition to healthcare inflation, which is around 4% this year. By the time I’m old enough to actually need regular medical attention, I can’t imagine what my bills are going to look like.