Americans remain frustrated with the cost of healthcare. As costs rise, fear grows that they will lose their coverage and even fall into bankruptcy. American families face this anxiety everyday, but it does not need to be this way.
Patients deserve more affordable and more widely available healthcare. We must modernize our healthcare system and learn from other sectors of our economy, such as cell phones, where empowered consumers forced companies to compete by racing to offer a better product or service at a lower price. Today, House Republicans will unveil a healthcare reform agenda that would begin to move us toward these goals.
As a physician, I know the best treatments come from accurate diagnosis, so we should start by looking at what is causing the problems with our healthcare system:
· Bureaucratic price-control formulas in Medicare, Medicaid, and other public programs disrupt the market, restricting access and distorting supply.
· Outdated tax policies distort the private market for health insurance, while offering nothing for millions without job-based insurance.
· Wasteful, unnecessary lawsuits contribute
· to a dangerous shortage of physicians in high-risk practices like obstetrics and surgery due to our unbalanced medical liability system.
· A patchwork of healthcare regulations and mandates discourages competition and drives up costs in the form of higher taxes and rising premiums.
When addressing healthcare, Washington fails to put the needs of the patient first. Patients want personal, quality, high-value healthcare. We must focus on what patients most want and need: prevention, early diagnosis, control of chronic illnesses, enhancing the quality of life, and wellness – to help Americans stay out of the hospital and other expensive institutional settings.
As a nation, we spend significantly more on healthcare than other developed countries.
American families clearly deserve better value for their hard-earned dollars. Better information and healthy competition among plans and providers will offer people more options and more affordable choices -- choices people value.
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.