Perhaps the most blatant “disinformation” being promulgated in the health care debate this year is that there are only two choices for American health care: putting the federal government in charge or allowing insurance companies to run the show. While the President, congressional Democrats in charge, and, to a degree, the media have done all they can to shut out Republican ideas, the truth remains that there is a third path, a correct path.
Republicans have put forth bold ideas that can transform American health care in a positive way — without a government takeover of medicine. Before the August recess, I joined with a number of colleagues to introduce H.R. 3400, the Empowering Patients First Act. Our solution is built upon the principle that when individuals are given control and ownership, we will achieve full access to coverage and see the entire system move in a positive, patient-centered direction. While we join in the national critique of the President’s misguided proposal, we also offer positive solutions for health care reform.
*Full Access to Coverage
First, all people should have the financial wherewithal to purchase private, personal health plans. As cost is the biggest barrier to coverage, H.R. 3400 employs a hybrid tax structure to ensure that there is no financial reason for a person to go without coverage. Based on factors such as income and family size, the legislation offers tax credits and deductions, which are advanceable and on a sliding scale, so the less wealthy and those without employer-provided plans will be able to purchase coverage.
A true market for Americans to purchase this personal private coverage, however, does not currently exist. For patients to have real choices, we must create a functioning marketplace for all to gain coverage they select. To achieve this, under the Empowering Patients First Act, all Americans would be able to use pre-tax dollars to buy coverage on the open market, leveling the playing field with employer-provided care that already receives this benefit. And to provide Americans greater purchasing power, the legislation allows for robust pooling mechanisms so that people can come together freely to drive down prices. These pools will provide a place for those with pre-existing conditions to find coverage at an affordable price. And there is the opportunity to purchase health insurance across state lines, which is currently barred.
Finally, we cannot fully bring down costs without addressing the runaway medical liability crisis. From exorbitant malpractice insurance premiums to the remarkably expensive practice of defensive medicine, it is my experience that the current culture of litigation costs patients hundreds of billions of dollars. And these costs do nothing to provide better care, but rather serve only as a defense against unyielding personal injury lawyers. H.R. 3400 tackles this problem with the creation of new health courts that trust the expert opinions of medical professionals. When malpractice suits are brought through specialized courts and viewed through the perspective of medically appropriate care, rather than a lottery mentality, we will see a decline in frivolous lawsuits and the need for costly defensive medicine.
*Patients in Charge
But providing access to affordable care only gets us half way to our goal. A 21st century American health care system should put the customer — the patient — in charge of the system. To truly transform American health care in a patient-centered way, we must give control and ownership of health coverage to individuals — to patients.
Currently, most people receive their care from their employer or the government. This makes someone else, not the patient, the customer. H.R. 3400 offers people the option to utilize a system that would put them in charge. This means that employers could provide their workers with the opportunity to purchase the care that best fits their individual needs, rather than just what is offered at work. Building on the new marketplace previously discussed, we can give patients seemingly limitless coverage options. What’s more, if a Medicare or Medicaid beneficiary would prefer a private, personal plan, they would have the option to move their resources and purchase whatever coverage they believe best suits them and their family. And all of these purchasing decisions will be made easier with the transparency created by new health plan and provider portal websites where patients can compare rates and information about coverage options and treatment.
All of these things give patients choices, portability, and control. And when patients are empowered with the ability to vote with their feet, we will, by necessity, see insurance companies become much more responsive to our personal needs.
Finally, all this can be accomplished without raising taxes a single penny. On top of the cost savings associated with lawsuit abuse reform, greater competition, and reining in waste, our plan is fully paid for by reducing spending, which has gotten way out of control. Instead of growing government, the Empowering Patients First Act says that Washington must once again set priorities in our budget — just like American families do every single day.
*The Third Path
Rather than a government takeover of medicine or allowing the unsustainable status quo to persist, there is a third path. No bureaucrat — one from either the government or an insurance company — should get between you and your doctor. By empowering patients, we can preserve what is good with our current system and improve what ails it, all without threatening the world class quality of care that we enjoy in America. So the next time the President asks what Republicans want to do for health care, we must all respond: empower patients!