By Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) - 07/16/09 04:33 PM EDT
The first question we must ask ourselves is whether we are considering every option for reform. I do not believe that we are. The current proposals being considered have been written by a small number of people and exclude many options for reform that do not support the model of greater government control. I recently introduced a package of healthcare reform bills that would help to reduce the cost and amount of healthcare paperwork, to reduce the cost of medical liability, and to give incentives to doctors for accepting Medicare patients into their practice. Commonsense ideas like these should be part of the discussion.
Administrative costs now account for more than one-quarter of all hospital costs. A study in California concluded that one in five healthcare dollars in the state go to paperwork. The costs of a broken medical liability system continue to grow. A study in Pennsylvania showed that up to 90 percent of physicians practiced defensive medicine, and HHS estimates that this practice wastes between $60 billion and $108 billion a year. In many parts of the country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a doctor who will accept Medicare due to the low reimbursement rates. I hear countless stories from seniors in my district whose doctors have decided they can no longer afford to accept Medicare patients.
With such serious problems facing our system, it does not make sense to enact massive healthcare reform without addressing these issues. For example, the current proposals do little, if anything, to address medical liability. Administrative burdens, unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy will only grow by adding millions of people to the government plans. Additionally, the creation of a “public plan” or “Medicare for all” to compete with private insurance will face the same problems that Medicare faces now. If doctors cannot afford to accept Medicare patients as it is, what will happen when there are millions of younger Americans on a public plan that pays the same rates as Medicare? I fear that unless we address some of these major problems, any attempt at major reform is doomed to fail. I cannot think of a time in our nation’s history when putting the government in control of anything has lowered costs or made things work smoother. Amtrak is a glaring example that comes to mind. Nearly 40 years into the Amtrak experiment, we are still eagerly awaiting the expanded service and low costs that were promised.
The second major question we must ask is if the new plan will put barriers between the doctor and patient. I believe that the proposals we have seen so far will. Creating a massive new government-run health plan is destined to become more of a barrier than an asset. The proposed House language sets up an “advisory committee” and a “commission” that will help develop treatment protocols based on government-directed research. What this means in English is the government, not our doctors, is going to decide what treatments are appropriate for a particular diagnosis. This will put a bureaucrat between us and our doctor. It will drastically change healthcare as we have known it.
We need not guess what these new barriers to our care will look like. Many of our friends in Europe have set up similar systems over the years. In Germany for example, they have created similar bureaucratic bodies, except they call them the “Federal Joint Committee” and the “Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare.” These bodies are in charge of setting prices for medical care through government formulas and also follow doctors’ prescribing habits and set doctors’ reimbursements. In the past year, these bodies have cleared 15 new medical products and services and spent an average of 35 months of review on each one.
If now is the time to consider comprehensive healthcare reform, then we all need put politics aside and keep every idea on the table. This debate is simply too important to do otherwise. We need to look at every idea, not just those that fit the government-run plan that the president and his allies in Congress support. After all, this debate will affect every man, woman and child in this country. We must do better.