Killing Consumer-Directed Health Care?

One of the most important recent innovations in health care has been the expansion of consumer-directed care, especially through Health Savings Accounts.  HSAs offer patients greater control over their money and create an incentive for cost-consciousness.  Suddenly people have a reason to shop around and find the best deal for routine care.

But Congress is preparing to wreck the system.  At the behest of a congressional staffer-turned lobbyist, the House has voted to impose on HSAs much of the regulatory bureaucracy evident in health insurance.  Reports the Wall Street Journal:

Democrats have made affordable health care a mainstay of their election agenda, but apparently only if you’re willing to get insurance through the government. Witness their stealthy assault on Americans who prefer the private-sector option of Health Savings Accounts.

This week, the House passed legislation that included a provision to require every HSA transaction be reviewed and verified as a legitimate medical expense. Democrats say this is to ensure that consumers are using their tax-free withdrawals for a knee replacement, rather than a new iPod. In reality it adds a layer of bureaucracy that could sharply reduce the appeal and cost savings of HSAs.

A key player here is Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark, whose main purpose in politics is to give the U.S. a government-run health-care system. He is a known opponent of HSAs — once comparing them to “weapons of mass destruction” — because they introduce more individual choice into the health-care marketplace.

Pushing for the provision was a company called Evolution Benefits, which has patented a system for the substantiation of health-care expenses. Evolution’s lobbyist, John McManus, was the former staff director of the Health Subcommittee under Republican Bill Thomas. The company first lobbied for the HSA provision, then withdrew its support when Republicans began to focus on its role. But Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel helped make sure the provision was in the bill, which passed largely on partisan lines.

 Leave it to Congress to try to mess up a good thing. It makes you wonder if the politicians want to manufacture a real health care crisis, since it would increase their power.