Fla. Preventive Care Study Sparks Debate

Published June 1, 2009

The state of Florida could save an estimated $700 million if some of the state’s 3.8 million uninsured residents were given free basic health screenings and preventive care, according to a private study by George Washington University for the Florida state legislature.

Disincentives for Preventive Care

One state advocacy group, the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, says the results of the study prove public clinics and state community health centers should receive as much as $31 million in funding by 2013. According to state budget figures, such facilities currently receive about $15.3 million in funding.

Paul Guppy, vice president of research for the Washington Policy Center, disagrees with the group’s emphasis on free preventive measures.

“So-called universal health care would not be the answer because people would have even less incentive to get basic health screenings and preventive care than they do now,” Guppy said. “After all, if you can get health care anytime you want for ‘free,’ why bother to plan ahead? It’s easier to just wait until you get sick or injured, then go to the hospital, since the cost to the patient in either case is the same—zero.

“People who own and manage their own health benefits have a strong incentive to live a healthy lifestyle and get regular checkups,” Guppy continued. “By keeping their own health costs low they receive a direct benefit, like good drivers who have lower insurance rates, and by avoiding serious illness they contribute to keeping costs down for everyone.”

Calling for a Pilot Program

“The first tactic I would try is to give them more control of their resources,” said Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation. “Under the government system you are not incentivized to take care of yourself on a regular basis. That’s not to say that health savings accounts are the be-all, end-all, but at least there are incentives to take care of yourself.

“Maybe a solution is to couple the health savings account with some sort of preventive care mandate,” Gessing said. “It’s something Florida and other states can experiment with at the very least.

“At the end of the day, if you pay on the front end you may be able to avoid bigger costs later on,” Gessing continued. “It sounds like a plausible idea. We essentially have these 50 states of laboratories for democracy, and they should be looking at this as a good way to see what policies work best. If preventive care lowers costs, then by all means use it. But if it raises costs for some reason, then we should drop it and go back to the drawing board.”

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.