Politics & Policy

Empowering Patients First

A conservative health-care plan would preserve choice while saving taxpayers $2.34 trillion.

As Obamacare collapses around us, Democrats in Washington are offering the American people a false choice: either stick with this disastrous law or let insurance companies run the show. But there is a third option — a better option — and that’s patient-centered health care.

As a physician, I have practiced patient-centered medicine, and as a lawmaker, I believe our nation should be implementing patient-centered policies. That’s why, for three consecutive Congresses, I, along with dozens of co-sponsors, have proposed these reforms as a replacement bill to Obamacare, the Empowering Patients First Act (H.R. 2300).

For obvious reasons, folks have real reservations about an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. After all, the last time Congress tried to reform health care, the result was Obamacare, which will cost American taxpayers nearly $2 trillion over the next ten years, while hurting the very people it’s supposed to help.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can have a quality health-care system that is accessible and affordable for all, and we can do it without compounding our national debt or raising taxes on American families.

In a report released today, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, estimates that H.R. 2300 would save American taxpayers $2.34 trillion in its first decade alone. This is in stark contrast to the budget-busting “Affordable Care Act,” which saddles future generations of Americans with trillions of dollars in additional debt.

Our plan saves those tax dollars without compromising compassionate care. While we begin by repealing Obamacare, mandates and all, we also address the health-care challenges that have been facing our country since long before its implementation. At the heart of each reform is the insistence that patients, families, and doctors make medical decisions — not Washington.

First, we believe that increasing access to coverage begins with decreasing costs. So the Empowering Patients First Act would allow the interstate purchase of insurance — a practice that is currently illegal. When companies compete across state lines, consumers have more and better options for coverage. As in all markets, this competition drives down costs and empowers families with more choices.

But a lack of competition is not the only obstacle to lowering costs. Lawsuits are another. In a recent study commissioned by Jackson Healthcare, “physicians estimate[d] the cost of defensive medicine to be in the $650 to $850 billion range, or between 26 and 35 percent of annual health care costs in the U.S.”

The practice of defensive medicine, which squanders hundreds of billions of dollars annually, is a response to an increasingly litigious society in which one in 14 physicians faces a malpractice suit every year. This creates a strong incentive to perform additional and perhaps unnecessary tests to exhaust every potential diagnosis — no matter how improbable — to buttress a defense in court. These costs are passed on to patients or to “the system.” Through creative, meaningful lawsuit-abuse reforms, our solution reduces the need for defensive medicine, resulting in lower medical bills for American families while still honoring patients’ rights.

Any efforts to improve health care should not stop simply with reducing costs. The Empowering Patients First Act enhances quality of care by refocusing our attention on the needs of patients and their doctors. We can best accomplish this by removing governmental barriers to personalized health care.

Today, nearly half of all Americans rely on their employers for health insurance. If they change or lose their jobs, access to the insurance coverage they have — and may very well like — can be lost. That could mean losing the ability to see preferred doctors and being forced to find new ones who may be unfamiliar with an ongoing treatment. This is particularly problematic given that the average American worker will have between ten and twelve different employers in her lifetime. She shouldn’t have to have ten to twelve different health plans.

Our bill would allow individuals to keep their policies, even if they lose or change jobs, to cultivate a continuity of care. Americans would be able to keep their doctors, regardless of who’s paying. Medicine works best for Americans when real trust is developed between patients and their physicians. Insurance portability is critical to maintaining this vital relationship.

Under the Empowering Patients First Act, individuals and small businesses would experience benefits similar to those enjoyed by employees of a large corporation. Through association health plans and individual membership associations, Americans can harness the purchasing power of millions by pooling with others across the country. When these pools are widened — a practice currently prohibited by law — prices fall and risks associated with covering individuals with pre-existing conditions vanish. No one should be priced out of the insurance market because of an unfavorable diagnosis.

Still, even with real reforms, too many families can’t afford health insurance. While Obamacare thrusts these Americans into government-run programs like Medicaid, H.R. 2300 instead provides them with deductions, tax credits, refundable tax credits, or advanceable refundable tax credits. This ensures that all Americans will have the financial wherewithal to purchase the kind of coverage they need, not what the government forces them to buy.

Finally, in addition to being an affront to quality health care, Obamacare is also an unabashed assault on our First Amendment rights. Thanks to its regulations, employers are now required to provide their workers with insurance that covers treatments or services that may be contrary to their beliefs. Our bill reverses this constitutional violation, protecting religious liberty and safeguarding conscientious objection.

As millions of our fellow Americans suffer under Obamacare, Republicans are eager to offer a better alternative, a smarter solution respectful of all patients. We can improve our health-care system while reducing costs and saving taxpayers money. And we can do it all without putting Washington in control of medicine.

— Tom Price represents Georgia’s sixth congressional district. He is the vice chairman of the House Committee on the Budget. An orthopedic surgeon, he spent more than 20 years caring for patients in the metro Atlanta area.


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