OREM — Health care needs reform in the United States, but it shouldn't be through government programs, Steve Forbes said at Utah Valley University on Friday.

Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine and presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, spoke to about 400 students and community members. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, were also part of the economic forum.

Forbes said he believes free markets should reform health care. When running for president, he advocated the flat tax. For health care, he believes government should offer tax credits for people who want to buy their own insurance.

"I guarantee with that kind of competition, when the system is more geared to you, the individual, rather than the third party, you'll start to see innovations," Forbes said.

Examples of competition in the health marketplace are in foreign countries such as Thailand, India and Singapore that lure American "medical tourists" who need operations that would be far more expensive in the United States.

"One of the ways they do it is to emphasize in their facilities that they have low infection rates compared to American medical facilities," Forbes said, adding that there is no economic incentive for U.S. hospitals to try to decrease staph infections.

Another example is Lasik surgery. Many people pay for it out-of-pocket because their insurance companies don't cover the procedure, and the medical industry had to scramble to make it desirable. As a result, Lasik now costs one-third less than it did 10 years ago, according to Forbes.

"If people want more of something, it becomes a growth industry," Forbes said. "You get productivity gains and growth and get more for less."

During the question-and-answer period, audience members referred to health-care reform criticism by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. But not all audience members felt the marketplace was the answer.

One man described himself as a small-business owner whose health insurance program was paltry compared to large corporations, making it hard to attract and retain good employees.

He was born in Greece and lived there for 30 years before immigrating to the United States, where he has lived for 35 years and is now a citizen. The man, who didn't identify himself, takes issue with allegations that national health care in Greece and other places in Europe is corrupt or broken. "I hear Gov. Herbert say, 'I don't believe capitalism is a dirty word,' " the man said. "Well, I don't believe socialism is a dirty word, either."

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