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Winning Means Making Health Care Good for Entrepreneurs [OPINION]

Warren-Buffett-630x420The only thing we really know about the health care debate — on temporary hiatus for the Independence Day recess in Congress — is that we don’t really know what the resulting policy will look like.

The thing that gnaws at me though, is that if our health-care system ultimately isn’t good for business, particularly for small business and entrepreneurs, it’s a bad idea.

Imagine the innovation that would be unleashed in this country if the potential of bankrupting health-care costs weren’t part of a talented and inspired worker’s calculus of launching a new business.

That’s the reality today.

That was the reality before Obamacare.

That is the reality of the discussion going forward.

It’s also an interesting element of a recent interview with Warren Buffett on public broadcasting last week. In the wide-ranging interview with Buffett – the much-lauded investor king of Omaha – Judy Woodruff of PBS asked about the current state of health care.

Buffett said health-care costs have more of an effect on overall business than corporate taxes.

“Health care in 1960 was 5 percent of (Gross Domestic Product). And there’s only 100 cents in the dollar. So, it’s gone from 5 cents — 5 percent to 17 percent. And it keeps going up. Corporate taxes have gone down from 4 percent to 2 percent,” he said. “So, corporate taxes are way less of a factor in American competitiveness than — I’m talking about overall business — than medical costs.”

It should be noted that Buffett is quick to say he’s no expert on health care. But he is an expert on picking companies that ultimately make money based on core business principals.

Agree or disagree, if you believe in those principals, if you believe that a person’s business success grants credibility to their opinions on public policy, you have to take the point seriously.

Bottom line: Buffett believes that a single-payer system – that’s the government – would ultimately control costs, and be better for business, than continued growth in the sector as a percentage of the nation’s GDP.

“In almost every field of American business, it pays to bring down costs,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of people involved in the medical — the whole — just the way the ecosystem works, that there is no incentive to bring down costs.”

Reading the interview reinforced the notion, that I’m starting to buy into, that the result of all the sound and fury of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, will ultimately be the thing that Republicans have long lamented.

Single-payer health care.

It’s the ultimate irony and just another smudge on the record of public debate in this country. If we can’t find solutions to real problems without summarily rejecting ideas because of who forwards them, then we aren’t fulfilling the promise of a free society.

Single payer was rejected in the early days of the Obamacare debate as an unpassable option.

Here we are again.

Obamacare was formulated by bringing together stakeholders and policy makers.

The conservative Heritage Foundation is frequently cited as the source of the base philosophy of the individual mandate and marketplaces. I recently read a very interesting deconstruction of that notion from last year in Forbes.

The author, John C. Goodman, walks through the history of Heritage’s role in the debate. The compilation of theories and realities that led to Obamacare is a complicated and fascinating mess.

The Obama administration tried to thread the needle of private insurance companies through managed care.

Which is all to say, it’s a different day but the same game.

If Republicans aren’t able to simplify the system, somehow control costs while providing real coverage for average people, they will fail.

You don’t get three strikes in this game.

Warren Buffett’s comments reminded me – perhaps not the message he intended – that health care probably is best separated from business.

Insurance costs shouldn’t be the determining factor for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

You may not believe our country can’t afford a single-payer, government-backed system.

But the cost of stifling business innovation, by not controlling the costs to companies and individuals, will cost us much more in the long run.

Another businessman — President Trump – isn’t much help to his party’s policy makers in that he doesn’t seem to care that much about the details.

Congressional Republicans may do well to listen to the second-richest man in the world rather than the 544th.

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