First, do no harm

When I first took my oath as a physician back in 1977, I vowed to “first, do no harm.”  I’m beginning to wonder why members of Congress are not required to take the same oath. There are so many proposals floating around Congress these days that would surely do more harm than good. Cap-and-trade comes to mind. But perhaps more dangerous is the idea of a public “government” plan.

I did not give up a successful and worthwhile 25-year medical practice to come up here to Washington and sit on the sidelines of the healthcare debate. I am committed to helping the millions of American who want healthcare coverage find it and to lowering costs for everyone.

I will not, however, allow that coverage to come in the form of a slow, but inevitable, government takeover of our nation’s healthcare system. Every day there is a new horror story from someone operating under the healthcare systems currently run by the government. This is not Republican rhetoric; this is reality.

A compelling story was told during an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing by an Alabama pediatrician who revealed she was spending more money treating her patients than she was receiving in reimbursements from Medicaid, forcing her to dip into her retirement savings just to keep her doors open. An undeniable result of catapulting millions more Americans on government-run healthcare, like Medicaid, would be more and more doctors unable to keep their doors open.

Whether we call it cost-shifting, cross-subsidization, or theft, the government plan is only functional because it siphons cash from the private sector. And if we destroy the private sector, who pays?

On June 3, my hometown paper, the Dallas Morning News, ran a story outlining many of the difficulties Medicaid patients are encountering trying to find doctors. I want to find ways to help Americans find and see the doctor they need, when they need to, not put more government red tape and bureaucracy in the way.

After all, access to a health insurance policy in a government program is useless unless there is someone to provide the care.  

So, instead of giving the federal government more control over Americans’ personal lives, including the health decisions they make, why not empower more Americans? As a physician, I did not like it when private insurance limited my decisions, and I certainly would not welcome the government intruding. Let’s give patients more information so they can make the health decisions that are best for them.

I have spoken to several healthcare industry experts, from former administration officials to private citizens with innovative ideas that have worked. In a short interview, which is posted on,  former Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt hits the nail on the head when he says:

“We don’t have to turn it [healthcare] over to the federal government, we can empower consumers. We can provide them with information that will allow them to have higher quality at lower cost; we just have to have confidence in them. We can use government as an important tool, and use the government to organize a system, not to own it.”

I’d like to make it just as easy for all Americans to go out and shop for healthcare insurance like we shop for car insurance. Let’s reform the tax code so that it treats small businesses, families and individuals looking for healthcare insurance the same way it treats big companies. Let’s remove the barriers for patients with pre-existing conditions.

Last Congress I introduced a bill to exclude members of Congress from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. I saw this as a way for us to be more creative and practical in finding solutions for the uninsured if we too were also uninsured. Not surprisingly, my bill had zero cosponsors.

But I did some research before introducing the bill, and I found that there are health policies out there that provided affordable and quality coverage with the $1,500 individual or $3,000 voucher the bill provided.

My point is, there are plans out there, there is no question about that. The federal government should continue to play the role as referee, ensuring performance standards are met and everyone is treated fairly, but then it should get out of the way and let American hard work and ingenuity do what it does best.

The fact is, Congress is currently operating under some of the lowest approval ratings ever. The public has clearly lost its confidence in the federal government. Perhaps this is because the federal government is rapidly moving down a path that shows it is losing its confidence in the American people.

Our country was founded on “We the people,” not “We the elected officials in air-conditioned offices in Washington, D.C.”  When it comes to healthcare, should the federal government help Americans find the plan that works for them, or control the plan?  America has spoken, and our citizens do not want more government control.  Perhaps Congress should listen, have confidence in the American people, and most importantly, vow to do no harm.

After spending 25 years practicing medicine as an OB/GYN, Burgess was elected to Congress in 2002. He serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittee on healthcare. He founded and chairs the Congressional Health Care Caucus.