Pressure to control healthcare spending will continue to tempt government bureaucrats and HMOs to follow the lead of other countries. Socialized health systems allow patients to die by refusing to pay for new life-saving technologies and rationing medically necessary services by forcing patients onto life-threatening waiting lists. They mandate government-only coverage from cradle to grave, yet quickly forget, as a Canadian court wrote, “access to a waiting list is not access to healthcare.” Americans, working with their primary doctor, should be able to make decisions about how to best care for themselves and their families.
We must improve coverage and access for children, especially those in working families who cannot afford private coverage. Last year, at least 68,000 low-income children in my home state of Louisiana remained eligible but were not enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). Programs designed to help children must be more successful in reaching those who truly need it. Patients and taxpayers deserve more accountability from government-run programs.
We can create a healthcare system that meets patients’ needs and allays Americans’ anxiety about healthcare by putting in place new policies that respond to consumer demands for more affordable health insurance and more control over their healthcare decisions.
Congress should make coverage portable from job-to-job, and give Americans the same tax break when they buy insurance on their own that they receive when they get insurance through their jobs. We should create new purchasing-pool options to cover more people and provide more choices for individuals and families. We should make it legal for working families to buy health insurance across state lines in a national market. Congress could allow those eligible for public programs the choice to apply the value of their government health benefits toward the purchase of private health insurance, giving them more options for quality care.
Universal coverage will not guarantee lower costs or protect access if Congress fails to reverse looming healthcare provider shortages, especially in the areas of nursing, primary care providers and heart surgery. This begins by fixing the nurse faculty shortage forcing universities to turn away thousands of qualified students annually.
Our current system largely ignores wellness and prevention, preferring to address preventable conditions when a person is sick and solutions are more expensive. Congress should not dismantle the federal law permitting large employers to develop innovative worksite wellness programs. Rewarding wellness and prevention is crucial, especially for small business owners and employees.
Finally, leaders in the public and private sector must accelerate efforts to make our health system more transparent. Patients need useful, convenient, reliable information on health plans and providers so Americans have the tools to shop for the best value. Access to secure patient-owned electronic personal health records is one needed step along with incentives for providers to add information to these records.
I look forward to discussing solutions to many of the challenges Americans face in healthcare, including long-ignored access problems in Medicare, Medicaid, and other government-run programs. Any fundamental solution must start with a healthy doctor-patient relationship fostering trust, improving communication and focusing on the best interests and wishes of the patient.
Dr. Charles W. Boustany, Jr. was first elected to Congress in December 2004 following a successful career as a cardio-thoracic surgeon. Currently serving his second term in office, Boustany represents Louisiana’s Seventh Congressional District, which covers the regions of Acadiana and Southwest Louisiana.