United Health Care and Baycare health systems are involved in a contract dispute over agreed to fees and alleged underpayments. The two parties have ended their relationship meaning that United health care patients can no longer use Baycare facilities unless they pay out of pocket for “out of network” facilities. Baycare claims they are owed $11 million in underpayments made by United and United is claiming that Baycare also wants to be paid at a level it does not want to pay. Such are the routine ins-and-outs of health care financing. This has left many members insured by United and their employers to determine whether they want to continue with United as their insurer. It has also meant that consumers must now look critically at the value of paying out of pocket to get medical care “out of network” at Baycare facilities or seek care elsewhere at a competitor. It is a choice of everyone that is except the special protected class known as government workers. It turns out that the government workers are being protected from paying out of pocket for out of network benefits for health care while private citizens have to pay their own way, make actual choices and also pay for the extra benefits of government workers.
Last week the Tampa Bay Times reported that Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Pinellas County Director of human resources stated they will pay the costs of government workers to continue to use Baycare facilities. They will cover the extra out of pocket costs and take the money from the taxpayers to do it. They are already talking about raising taxes so that the government workers will not have to feel the pain the taxpayers are feeling. So while private citizens must pay their own increased out of pocket costs, they must experience the double whammy of also paying the out of pocket costs of the government workers. While the private citizen must look for health care outside of Baycare to avoid out of pocket costs, the government worker can act as if nothing has changed. This is fairly typical of the special treatment received by the political class of unionized and non-unionized government workers. The elected officials always seem to come down on the side of taxing the private sector to pay “their” government workers and never seem to act like they are actually in office to protect the taxpayer first.
Besides soaking the taxpayers and further favoring a special political class of government workers, the politicians are also upsetting the only vestiges of the free market left in health care. They are allowing thousands of workers to continue to use Baycare facilities without actually spending their own money. They are removing the pressure of competition that allows them to select a lower cost facility that is in their insurance plan. When competition is removed, the pressure to drive down prices goes down. That means that the natural and beneficial effect of letting Baycare and United both suffer the consequences of their actions in the contract dispute disappears. Neither of these two massive corporations will suffer if Pinellas County merely soaks the taxpayers to maintain the status quo. United pays the same amount to Baycare – they are happy. Baycare gets the same amount from extra out of pocket spending from government workers – they are happy. So the politicians are actually worsening the situation by interfering in this contractual dispute. Prices will not be driven down, competition won’t be allowed to operate and the taxpayers lose. Is there any doubt that the governments in Pinellas County have completely lost touch with the private citizens they are actually supposed to serve?