By Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) - 09/22/09 09:25 PM EDT
Americans understand that the control of medical decisions is a zero-sum game. Any power that is given to one party is power taken away from another. And while patients already feel like their health coverage is oftentimes out of their hands, they are rightly concerned that their grip on decision-making would be further eroded under proposals from Democrats running Congress.
Positive health reform will bring power to patients, so competition and accountability can create a patient-centered system that holds down costs, increases quality and innovation, and expands access. When patients are in charge, we will see remarkable changes that will benefit all.
Unfortunately, the debate this year has focused almost exclusively on how to increase the role of the federal government in the delivery of medical services. This is extremely dangerous. Medical decisions are some of the most personal and private we ever make. By putting the government in charge, patients and their physicians stand to forever lose the power to make independent medical decisions.
While much attention has been given to the government-run “public option,” there are countless other facets of the president’s plan that would empower Washington with control over our healthcare system. These include new federal definitions of what healthcare plans must look like (under penalty of law), bureaucratic research councils that define what medical care will be available, and mandates that will tax away the viability of employers and individuals.
When Washington tells patients what kind of health plan they must have, what kind of treatments are permissible, and how private insurers must operate their businesses, there is little room for anyone to claim that autonomy remains in the system.
So while challenges in our health system are many, the approach we have seen from those in control would only compound them. Instead, we must take actions to maintain the many good aspects of our system while providing reforms to fix what’s not working. This means taking power from bureaucrats — both from the government and insurance companies — and giving it to patients.
To bring a new patient-centered era in American healthcare, I was proud to join with a number of my Republican Study Committee colleagues to introduce H.R. 3400, the Empowering Patients First Act.
Our proposal begins by ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable coverage. Through a series of tax credits, deductions, and tax equity for the purchase of care, H.R. 3400 provides patients the financial wherewithal to purchase coverage, so there is no reason to go to without it. Secondly, our plan makes it feasible for patients to literally pick any healthcare plan, not just what is offered at work or by the government. This reform means that no matter who is paying the bill, patients will own and control their own health plan.
By empowering patients with ownership, we also provide them the portability to maintain their coverage if they change jobs or move across state lines.
This will put patients in a position where insurance companies are accountable and responsive to them, rather than employers or the government.
Further, to bring down costs and provide an affordable marketplace for those with pre-existing conditions, H.R. 3400 breaks down barriers to purchasing coverage across state lines and creates large pooling mechanisms to give patients the purchasing power of millions.
And because you cannot fully bring down medical costs without addressing our medical lawsuit abuse crisis, H.R. 3400 provides for the creation of specialized Health Courts taking into account the expertise of medical specialty societies to determine whether care provided was the best for patients.
This will relieve the upward pressure on costs caused by the practice of defensive medicine and allow doctors to focus solely on healing patients.
We have come to a crossroads. We can allow the government to have more power and control, or we can take another path. We can take a path that empowers patients by giving them the control over their healthcare, leading to increased quality, responsiveness, affordability, accessibility, choices and innovation. Rather than take more control away, it’s time we started putting the people that matter the most in the health care debate back in the driver’s seat. It’s time to Empower Patients!
Price is a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.