Congress is moving fast to rush through a health care overhaul that lacks a key ingredient: the full participation of you, the American people. There has been much fanfare about the need for reform, and Wisconsin even hosted the president for a rally in Green Bay to highlight the need to get a grip on skyrocketing costs, expand access and preserve and promote what works.
I applaud these efforts - and have proposed legislation to achieve these shared goals.
The question is not whether health care in America needs to be reformed; the question centers on how we achieve our shared reform goals. More critically: Who should be at the center of health care in America?
Right now, the nucleus of power lies with third parties - insurers, employers and bureaucratic administrators. As we move forward with reform, should we shift the decision-making power to the federal government, or should we look to empower the patient and the doctor?
Real reform requires a sincere, open discussion of these important questions. Washington has failed in this respect - framing the debate as whether or not we're happy with the status quo. Congress and the White House have focused their public efforts on platitudes and press conferences, while the substance and the details have remained behind closed doors. It might surprise folks to learn that an actual legislative proposal was not released by the majority until this past Tuesday.
Before members even had time to read the 1,000-page bill, it already has cleared two major House committees and is set to be fast-tracked through Congress in the days and weeks ahead. Those members of Congress who voted for this bill already in their committees did so without knowing what the legislation costs. Before it's too late, let's take a closer look.
At the center of this legislation (H.R. 3200) is the creation of a new government-run insurance "option." Its advocates argue that only the creation of government-run insurance can facilitate "honest" competition among non-subsidized private plans.
With all due respect, this is a dishonest argument.
The public option is not designed to keep private insurance honest but to make private insurance go away.
A new government-run plan would stack the deck against any would-be competitors. The private sector has to pay taxes; the government collects taxes. The private sector has to account for its employees and benefits, while maintaining minimum reserve requirements; the government does not. The private sector pays whatever rates it negotiates with providers; the government dictates payments.
Here is how it works: The government-run plan would reimburse doctors and hospitals at below-market prices in order to control costs, similar to how Medicare underpays providers. When the government shortchanges doctors and hospitals, the rest of us will be forced to make up the difference: Those not on the government plan will have to pay more for the same care. If the government will only pay $70 to your doctor for a procedure that costs $100, then your doctor will charge you $130 for the same procedure to make up the difference.
With costs continuing to mount, employers will find it increasingly cost-effective to dump their employees onto the government-run plan and pay an additional 8% payroll tax for each worker. Some estimates state that under a government-run plan option, two of every three Americans would lose their current coverage within three years.
The president has yet to reconcile this actuarial fact with his promise: "If you like what you got, you can keep it."
As more and more people find themselves forced into the government-run plan, the only way to contain costs will be through rationing care by the federal government. The decision as to whether or not you need a potentially life-saving treatment will not be a decision made by you, your family and your doctor. It is a decision the government will make for you.
The more Americans learn the details of what is being rushed through Congress, the more folks will be looking for alternatives. I have introduced the Patients' Choice Act, which would provide universal access to quality, affordable health care in America without adding trillions in new taxes and debt and without the federal government taking it over.
It is my sincere hope that we can work together to bring about fiscally responsible, patient-centered health care reform. With engaged participation from Wisconsinites in this critical debate, I believe that we can enact better solutions than those being rushed through Washington. We can - and we must - rise to meet the challenge before us.