Opinion

If Uncle Sam becomes your doctor

The consequences would be severe. We can improve healthcare without busting the budget or rationing care.

By

Americans are doing their homework on healthcare reform. And, unlike some members of Congress, they're reading the legislation, even though it's more than 1,000 pages long.

They see that the numbers don't add up. They note the contradictory claims by the Obama administration and Democrat-controlled Congress. And they recognize the unintended consequences of the government controlling one-sixth of the US economy.

According to several recent polls, on key issues of access, quality of care, and cost, Americans don't support this government power grab.

A Quinnipiac national poll found that more than 7 in 10 Americans believe health reform will add to the federal deficit, contrary to President Obama's promise. They're correct. Analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation shows that the House bill that's being rushed through by Democrats would add $239 billion to the deficit in the next 10 years – and that's after raising taxes by $820 billion and cutting Medicare Advantage by $150 billion.

Americans are right to be leery of government-controlled healthcare that will increase costs, eliminate jobs through punitive taxes on small businesses, and put a government panel between doctors and patients.

I believe Congress should pursue reform, but the legislation pursued by Democratic leaders is equal parts faulty premise and flawed logic.

The figure often cited to justify this government intrusion into the private sector is that there are 46 million uninsured "Americans." However, when you omit noncitizens (9.5 million), individuals eligible for public programs but not enrolled, (12 million), the temporarily uninsured due to job change (9 million), and those who earn more than $84,000, but elect to forgo coverage (7 million), we arrive at about 8 million long-term uninsured. We can help these individuals obtain quality care for a fraction of the cost of what Democrats are promoting.

The other premise that Mr. Obama uses to justify his version of reform is that medical costs are destroying the economy and that this is unsustainable. We must stem the rising cost of healthcare, but according to the CBO, one of the bills in the Senate would do the opposite – it would increase healthcare costs by nearly $1 trillion.

Raising income taxes and threatening penalties for small businesses to fund what could amount to a government takeover of healthcare is a terrible prescription for a troubled economy. We need to close the deficit, strengthen the dollar, and prevent inflation – not hurt the small businesses that create 70 percent of our jobs.

To contain costs, the president wants to create an entity similar to Britain's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which by design evaluates the "comparative effectiveness" of medical treatments, but in practice rations care.

Obama's claim that "if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan" rings hollow. Government intervention in private markets has consequences. A public option wouldn't "level the playing field" – it would destroy it. After all, a government plan can afford to lose money indefinitely. Private plans don't have that luxury. Unable to match the government's market manipulation, they'd soon fold. Employers would drop private insurance, thereby decreasing choice and moving the country toward a single-payer system. Without private insurers making up the difference, government-controlled prices would reduce the supply of healthcare services and lead to further rationing.

If the president is serious about reducing healthcare costs, rather than increasing taxes during a recession or rationing care, he needs to address medical liability reform, which is one of the biggest sources of waste and added cost. Frivolous lawsuits force physicians to practice defensive medicine and carry expensive malpractice insurance, the cost of which is passed on to patients.

Uncapped lawsuit awards paid by insurance companies also get passed on to patients as higher premiums.

In addition to tort reform, there are other sensible ways to make healthcare more affordable and accessible. House Republicans want to:

•Make it easier for Americans to keep coverage when they change or lose jobs.

•End the bias many insurance companies show against preexisting conditions.

•Encourage the creation of health plan finders to provide patients with ways to find the right coverage.

•Give patients access to information to identify healthcare providers who deliver high-quality care at a lower cost.

•Allow interstate competition for health insurance, which will allow the market to create lower premiums rather than using a government insurance option to drive private insurers out of business.

We cannot allow politicians to stand between patients and needed care. Americans deserve the freedom to choose the type of healthcare that is best for them and their families.

This is not speculation. History demonstrates that government-run healthcare leads to higher taxes, rationed care, decisions by government employees instead of families and doctors, and jeopardizes the private coverage on which more than 100 million Americans depend.

Lamar Smith is a Republican member of Congress, representing the 21st district of Texas.

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