SALT LAKE CTY – December 16, 2008 – Sutherland Institute President Paul T. Mero testified before the Health System Reform Task Force on Tuesday, encouraging state legislators to create a coordinated, private-sector approach to basic health care for Utah’s neighbors in need.
Referring to “Caring for Our Neighbors in Need and Strengthening Community in Utah,” a policy brief distributed to the Task Force prior to his testimony, Mero said, “Our goal is to reverse the ever-growing burden on taxpayers from Medicaid and other state government-driven programs,” Mero told the task force. “In addition, as the best alternative to reversing this trend, we need to promote private-sector solutions to our health care needs, and to build our community in the process.”
Mero said there are many Utah citizens who are going the extra mile to help their neighbors in need, but those needs are much greater than heroic efforts to date can satisfy.
“Sutherland recommends the creation of a state-chartered Community Health Foundation to meet this greater need,” Mero proposed. “While we are championing the power of charity, we are not suggesting that the real medical needs of our indigent and needy uninsured be left to ‘invisible hands.’ What we’re recommending is a focused, centralized, coordinated effort.”
Explaining that authentic charity care requires a private-sector approach, Mero reminded lawmakers that the more government gets involved with something, the less the private sector has an opportunity to play a role. He explained that authentic charity care is “crowded out” by government programs in two ways: a direct impact, caused by the growing number of tax dollars committed to government-driven health care, and indirectly, by distorting current charitable efforts through endless waves of laws and regulations.
“Even if people want to help others in need, they can’t because they can’t give what they don’t have,” Mero said. “The government will tax us for programs for the needy until it’s no longer politically or fiscally feasible, and then, whatever needs are left, it forces the private sector to provide.”
Mero also pointed out that one of the main problems with government trying to care for the full universe of medically-needy people is that the current system has eligibility requirements that prevent some individuals from receiving the care they need.
“If someone sick earns $1 more than the eligibility cap, they are ineligible for assistance, but remain just as sick as if they earned a dollar less,” Mero said. “That’s one huge reason the Sutherland plan of authentic charity care is so compelling – it has no eligibility roadblocks. Our proposed network of statewide charity care clinics would help any needy Utah resident, with any medical problem, at any time.”
Sutherland’s proposal for authentic charity care includes two main keys. The first key is to understand that there is a complementarity between a culture of charity and a culture of self-reliance.
“You can’t have one without the other,” Mero explained. “We can’t have an authentic charity care system without also the universal expectation that we’ll work personally to stay healthy and that if we can pay for our medical needs, we will.
“If a consumer views medical care as an entitlement, he will not be as diligent in making healthy choices as he otherwise might if he knew his neighbors were sacrificing for his benefit, nor will he care about paying his own way.”
Mero said the second key to authentic charity care is that everyone be united in meeting this definition of basic care. Sutherland’s plan incorporates layers of charity care beginning with a state-wide network of free clinics. These clinics would be supplemented by associated advanced services, such as regional surgical centers and all of the good work currently being done by Utah’s hospitals and other high-end providers – all working in unison to meet the medical needs of those who cannot afford them.
“I will be the first to admit that under current social, cultural, and political winds of change, the Sutherland plan is bucking the trend toward more and more government health care,” Mero acknowledged. “I know it’s a test of the goodness of our community and an experiment in the power of freedom and compassion in behalf of our neighbors in need.”
Mero said he believes authentic charity care is possible because it is based on powers that governments do not have.
During his closing remarks, Mero urged members of the Task Force to include authentic charity care as part of their comprehensive plan.
“You must trust that the private sector will respond,” encouraged Mero. “I have great confidence in that, especially
in this state. People will be helped, taxpayers will be less burdened, and we will build a real and lasting community in the process.”