The Trojan Horse That's Killing Healthcare Reform

President Obama said something at his White House healthcare event last week that offers a disturbing hint of our future under his vision of health reform.

He suggested one way to save costs is not to spend on procedures that “evidence shows [are] not necessarily going to improve care” for the sick and the dying.

“Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller,” the President said.

Maybe.  But the question is, who decides?  

A Bureaucrat’s Concern Isn’t You, It’s the Government’s Bottom Line

Who decides if those extra dollars will or will not be spent on your care or the care of someone you love?  Under the plan advocated by President Obama and his allies, that someone will be a government bureaucrat.  

And even if that bureaucrat has the best of intentions, and even if he does his job well — especially if he does his job well — his main concern won’t be you or your loved one.

His only concern, if he’s doing his job right, will be for the government’s bottom line.

It’s his choice, not yours.  Surgery costs too much.  Make do with the painkiller.

Instead of Figuring Out What Can Be Done, We’re Debating the Government Option

What’s most tragic about the health reform options being debated today is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I have spent the past six years since founding the Center for Health Transformation studying our healthcare system, and finding out what works and what doesn’t work.

I’ve spoken to literally thousands of doctors, patients, hospital administrators and other health professionals.  There is widespread agreement over steps we could take now to deliver more choices of greater quality at lower cost to every American.

But instead of focusing on creating a bipartisan consensus, President Obama and his allies have introduced the Trojan Horse of a “public option” in health reform.

Think Government Will Create a Level Playing Field in Healthcare?  Look at the Auto Industry

Supporters of the public plan option say it would be just one choice among many; a government plan to “compete” with private health insurance plans.

But if you think for a moment that the Democratic establishment in Washington is going to create a government healthcare plan that competes on a level playing field with private insurance, just take a look at what they did with the auto industry.

They rigged the game.  They gave their union allies 55 percent of Chrysler and cheated the retired teachers and police officers who had invested in the company.  Then they gave $50 billion in the taxpayers’ money to GM to prop it up.  Meanwhile, the third of the once-Big Three, Ford, is left to fend for itself.  Is that a level playing field?

The Public Option as a Strategy to Achieve Nationalized Healthcare

The main argument for a government option is that private insurance is too expensive.  To expand coverage, Americans need an affordable alternative.

But in order to offer an affordable alternative, the government has to dramatically underprice private plans.  Of course, government, unlike a private company that must meet its budget in order to stay in business, can endlessly subsidize its plan.

And the result?  Depending on how great the government subsidy, the Lewin Group, a healthcare policy research firm, estimated that as many as 119 million currently insured Americans would drop private coverage and enroll in the government plan.

The private insurance market would gradually disappear.  And if you think this is an irrational fear, listen to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a supporter of the public option.  Rep. Schakowsky proudly says that private insurers “have every reason to be frightened” by a government plan, because it is a “strategy for getting [to a single-payer system], and I believe we will.”

So Far, $22 Million Has Been Spent On TV Ads.  And What Do We Have To Show For It?

Americans are justifiably dissatisfied with our healthcare system.  Healthcare is too expensive.  Millions of Americans can’t get health insurance.  And too often what we can get doesn’t promote better health and doesn’t deliver the best possible care.

So far, groups on both sides of this debate have spent $22 million on television commercials — more than was spent in the entire battle over Clinton healthcare reform in the 1990s.  

We’re spending lots of money, but the focus on the government plan has kept us from finding agreement in areas where we can make a real difference for Americans.

Democrats and Republicans Can Agree On Modernizing the System and Ending Healthcare Fraud

There is widespread agreement, for instance, that electronic medical records are the future.  President Obama and I both share this view.  They will be the primary method of record keeping in the future, and the faster we get to that future the more lives we will save, the more efficient our health system will be and the cheaper it will be.

Another area in which Democrats and Republicans should easily be able to find common ground is in fighting healthcare fraud.  

And if you think this is just tinkering around the edges of healthcare reform, you’re wrong.  Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a doctor, believes that fully one-third of all health spending is wasted on defensive medicine, red tape and outright fraud.  In a system that will spend $2.5 trillion this year, that means that more than $800 billion will go to unnecessary, unproductive and fully preventable spending.

For more information on how we can improve our healthcare by eliminating fraud, look for my book with Center For Health Transformation Vice President, Director of State Policy Jim Frogue entitled Stop Paying the Crooks: Solutions to End the Fraud That Threatens Your Healthcare  due out later this summer.

Command-and-Control Doesn’t Work. Competition and Choice Do.

I’m a conservative who believes that America desperately needs real change in our health system.  But we will never get to that if we can’t get beyond this endless debate over government-run healthcare.

The fact is, command-and-control from Washington doesn’t work.  Competition, choice and individual control will produce the health system we want.

To truly bring down costs and expand coverage we need to build a bipartisan agreement focused on four things:

1) Improving individual health by incentivizing prevention, wellness and early health.

2) Giving doctors and hospitals incentives to deliver high-quality care through fair and proper payments.

3) Reforming public programs like Medicare and Medicaid to root out fraud, cut waste and reward quality.

4) Empowering individuals with the information and financial resources they need to be better, more-informed consumers.

The Center for Health Transformation has developed an approach that will improve individual health, lower costs and deliver the best possible care.  Tell your representative that any health reform bill must have these basic principles.

President Obama Has a Choice to Make

If we can make these changes, not only will we have better health, lower costs and higher quality care, the savings they generate could be used to insure every American.

President Obama has a choice to make.  Does he want to have a highly partisan, government bill?  Or does he want to take a genuinely bipartisan approach that accomplishes real reform?

It’s not yet clear which way the President will go.  What is clear is that our ability to choose care for ourselves and our loved ones depends a great deal on his choice.

If the President chooses to preserve and strengthen our control over our health, we can get a lot accomplished.  If he chooses to take it away, it’s going to be a long summer.

Your friend,

Newt’s Quick Links

•    When our book, 5 Principles for a Successful Life:  From Our Family to Yours was published, my daughter Jackie and I asked readers to submit their own stories about how the principles in our book helped them and their families lead happier and more successful lives.  The response was overwhelming.  Thank you to all the readers who took the time to share their remarkable stories.  My Father’s Day gift from Jackie was her favorite story illustrating each of the five principles.  You can view them at
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•    Callista and I want to take this opportunity to congratulate our longtime friend and collaborator Vince Haley on his recent marriage to Bethany Place.  Vince has been an invaluable source of inspiration and knowledge for us and a powerful voice in his own right for the solutions America needs.  Now Vince will begin a new life with Bethany.  Congratulations and best wishes for the future to Vince and Bethany.