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Carson: Health plan would empower individuals

Neurosurgeon and former GOP presidential candidate says Republican nominee "very much likes" proposal based on expanded health savings accounts

Dr. Ben Carson autographs a book for Durham-based family practice physician Dr. David Fisher. Fisher attended a health care reform town hall featuring Carson Wednesday at High Point University.
Dr. Ben Carson autographs a book for Durham-based family practice physician Dr. David Fisher. Fisher attended a health care reform town hall featuring Carson Wednesday at High Point University.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is pushing a health-care plan similar to a proposal Dr. Ben Carson floated during his short run in the Republican primary.

“He very much likes the kind of plan that I’ve been talking about,” Carson told Carolina Journal on Wednesday night.

Carson, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon who advises Trump on medical policy, discussed his proposal with CJ after a town hall at High Point University. The forum, called “A Time to Choose,” focused on health-care reform.

Carson’s plan, which would replace Obamacare, features free market-oriented individual health-empowerment accounts and is designed to spur competition, which would drive down costs. The plan would shift responsibility for health-care decisions to the individual — instead of third-party payers — remove providers from the suffocating tangle of regulations, and pair the empowerment accounts with catastrophic illness insurance.

Carson said he’s already talked with “a large number of medical economists, and they can’t poke any holes in it. So I don’t think it’s going to be a hard sale at all.”

“But I do think you have to have it ready to roll, because I feel like it’s cruel and unusual punishment to kick people out of the Affordable Care plan,” he said. “But I also believe when they compare that to the program we’re going to be offering, you’re going to have to be pretty stupid to want to stay with the Affordable Care plan.”

Should Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton win, Carson said, “I would expect us to completely bankrupt ourselves pretty quickly.”

“But before we bankrupted ourselves, we would say, ‘Let’s take all the money from the rich,’ and then we would have nobody with any money because the rich would all leave, and we would end up [like] Argentina,” Carson said.

In 1993, then-First Lady Clinton spearheaded a complicated universal health coverage plan known as the Health Security Act that never received a vote in a Democratic-run Congress. If she were to revive that, Carson said, health care and the economy would greatly suffer.

“It’s a doubling down on Obamacare. She had stuff in there that was draconian, like if a doctor had three billing errors in a six-month period, they could be put in jail. It was just ridiculous stuff. Not even the most radical liberals would pass that thing.”

Carson faults Republicans for waiting too long to talk about ways to repeal and replace Obamacare, which he has discussed for years. Some Republicans say it’s too late to kill the failing system, but Carson doesn’t believe the nation is stuck with the program.

“It’s never too late, particularly when you have something that’s easy to explain, easy to understand, and it wouldn’t take that much to implement,” he said of his plan.

“I think the key thing that we could do is utilize the same or less money and put the responsibility back in the hands of patients” to buy health insurance, he said.

Carson said he has explained his plan to audiences filled with Medicaid recipients, and they’ve embraced it.

“They particularly like the idea that they have a say over how the dollars are spent, and if they don’t spend them they continue to accumulate,” Carson said. “In many of their cases this is the first thing that they ever sort of had ownership of, and it’s amazing how responsible people become when they feel ownership in something.”

Carson’s plan envisions families transferring money from individual health-empowerment accounts — similar to a health savings account but with less bureaucracy, he said — to parents, spouses, or siblings who have a medical crisis but don’t have enough money to pay their medical bills.

The town hall panel featured Carson; Robert Moffit, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former senior official in the Reagan administration; Dr. C.L. Gray, founder and president of Physicians for Reform; and Dr. Rosemary Stein, who owns the International Family Clinic in Burlington with her husband.

During the town hall, Carson discussed former President Bill Clinton’s recent comments that Obamacare is “a crazy system,” with dwindling coverage and a national surge in premiums — on average, 25 percent.

“In a candid moment, President Clinton was telling the truth. It’s a rare thing,” Carson quipped. He said Obamacare policies have become expensive “to the point you might as well not have insurance, because you’re probably not going to meet that deductible each year anyway.”

Moffit said repealing Obamacare isn’t enough to cure longstanding problems in the American health-care system.

But the debate will continue.

“We’ve got to address the most dysfunctional features of our system, and first and foremost what Congress has got to do is address the thing that shapes, and drives, and directs the entire health insurance market, and that is the federal tax treatment of health insurance,” Moffit said.

There are many ways to accomplish that, but the “common thread that runs through all of the proposals that have been offered on Capitol Hill to reform the system” involves the provision of individual tax relief for the purchase of health insurance, which “would open up the system to different types of insurance.”

As long as the tax code is neutral, the government would refrain from picking winners and losers, Moffit said. Consumers could enjoy tax relief for health insurance, whether using an indemnity plan, a managed care plan, or a health savings account plan. The tax change, he said, would promote portability in health insurance, allowing it not only to go from job to job but also to be modified through different stages of life.

“Americans,” Moffit said, “will start getting economic efficiency in the system.”