HSAs in Aisle 12

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has on several occasions mentioned that he is looking for guidance from the business community on how to resolve the health care problem. In particular, Schwarzenegger is looking to Safeway CEO Steve Burd, who has been proselytizing his own brand of health care.

This year, Burd offered a $2,000 deductible plan, with a $1,000 HSA contribution to the 30,000 managers.

Burd’s main thrust, however, is “personal responsibility.”

“When we discovered this behavioral stuff,” he said. “I felt it was the Holy Grail.”

“It’s where the money is. It’s where the change takes place,” he said.

People need to quit smoking, lose weight and exercise. (All noble goals, but if you’re among the working poor, with two jobs to make ends meet, I’m not sure where you’d find time to exercise or take a smoking cessation class)

Additionally, he says, too many people don’t comply with regimens to maintain diabetes, hypertension and other chronic disease. They need to be responsible. (True, but for Health Access, part of being able to maintain your health is having health care so your disease does not become a financial burden.)

Burd’s emphasis on “personal responsibility” is particularly attractive to Schwarzenegger, who has repeated this mantra several times in his ideas about reform.

It is particularly troubling, though, for advocates. It gives people a way to “blame” others as “irresponsible.” As we know, the uninsured are 25% more likely to die from their ailments than insured people because they lack health insurance. They are twice as likely to put off care, skip medications, skip doctor visits because of cost — because they lack health insurance. A high-deductible plan will not help, but may make matters worse if a person is already ill, as Jonathan Gruber explains in his report.

Here is Burd’s address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on September 7. Health Access has listened to the hourlong webcast and is providing a rough transcription here.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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