Retail Clinics Could Boost Access to Health Care
"Political leaders across the country seeking to expand government's role in health care should take note" of the "rapidly expanding" retail clinic industry, which provides U.S. residents "more accessible and more affordable health care," Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Turner notes that about 22% of patients who visit retail clinics are uninsured, according to a Harris Interactive poll conducted in March for the Journal. The clinics have increased competition, causing drug prices to drop and spurring some physicians to extend their office hours, according to Turner.
She continues, "This industry is in its infancy and will hardly register in our nation's $2 trillion-plus health care bill," but "these limited-service clinics could be the disruptive innovator in our health care system." Turner adds that the federal government likely will "get in the way ... with protectionist policies that throw up more regulatory barriers to entry."
However, retail clinics "could be just the beginning of consumer-friendly innovations, if Congress were to change tax policies in a way that would allow people to have more control over their health spending, as President Bush has proposed," according to Turner. She recommends that U.S. residents be given "the same tax benefits whether they get their health insurance at work or on their own" and that they have the opportunity to purchase coverage across state lines or through groups such as churches, labor unions and professional or trade organizations.
Turner notes that with "many congressional leaders hostile to free-market solutions, these policy changes are unlikely in the next two years." She concludes, "But as consumers get a taste of what consumer-friendly health care is like, they may well demand that the top-down centralized health care delivery of the 20th century give way to a system more in tune with the demands of 21st-century consumers seeking greater value and efficiency" (Turner, Wall Street Journal, 5/14).