Nov 29 2009

Bad Medicine

By Richard Shelby

President Obama and Democrat leaders in Congress claim that government-run health care will remedy skyrocketing medical costs and improve access to quality health care coverage.  After drafting a bill behind closed doors without input from the public, the Senate majority produced a bill that raises taxes, drastically cuts Medicare, and increases premiums to create a new government program: the so-called public option.  On November 21, the Senate voted 60-39 to proceed to consideration of this legislation.  I opposed this measure because I believe the public option is simply socialized medicine and expanded government disguised as greater choice.

I believe that we have the best health care system in the world – the finest doctors, first-rate treatments, cutting-edge innovation, and low wait times.  Our current system is not perfect, but we must seek to build upon rather than tear down these strengths.  I do not believe the American people desire or deserve higher taxes and rationed care, which would result from government-run health care.  As the Senate resumes consideration of health care legislation this week, I will continue to support steps that will decrease costs without diminishing quality.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that Senate Democrats’ proposal will cost $849 billion over ten years.  While Americans will be hit immediately with new taxes and government mandates, the actual services and coverage promised will not be implemented until 2014.  The Senate Budget Committee estimates the true ten year cost of the proposal to be $2.5 trillion once fully implemented.  Even the authors of this legislation concede that approximately 20.4 million people will lose insurance while waiting for new programs to take effect.  Moreover, according to the CBO, once fully implemented 24 million people will still remain without health insurance.

To pay for this massive yet ineffective expansion of government control, the bill includes over $493 billion in new tax increases and another $464 billion in Medicare cuts, thereby placing the burden of reform squarely on the shoulders of the middle class, small businesses, and the elderly.  Nearly half a trillion dollars in Medicare reductions will result in cutting seniors’ care through hospitals, nursing homes, hospice and home health care, and Medicare Advantage programs.  The bill imposes $28 billion in new taxes on employers who do not provide government approved health plans, and it charges a penalty of $750 per uninsured individual – a form of double taxation.  I do not believe massive tax increases and a reduction in coverage are what the American people have in mind as a way to improve access and create affordable, quality health care.

Medical rationing is inevitable under government-run health care.  Supporters of government-run medicine often cite Canada or Great Britain as models for the U.S.  Yet these countries are forced to ration care or have long waiting lists for medical treatment.  More than 750,000 Britons are currently awaiting admission to the National Health Service hospitals.  Last year, over half of Britons waited more than 18 weeks for care.  The Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian research organization, reported in 2008 that the average wait time for a Canadian awaiting surgery or other medical treatment was 17.3 weeks, an increase of 86 percent since 1983.  Access to a waiting list is not access to health care.  Simply put, government financing means government control, and government control means less personal freedom.

While we need to enact reforms to our health care system that will reduce costs and improve access, our nation cannot withstand the deep deficits this colossal health care entitlement program would create.  Instead, we need a system that restores the patients and doctors as the center of every health care decision rather than the government and insurance companies.  By making insurance portable, expanding health savings accounts, reducing frivolous lawsuits that provide only marginal assistance to injured patients and drive up our health care costs, emphasizing preventive care, reducing administrative costs, and making insurance more affordable to small business and individuals, we can efficiently decrease the costs that currently burden Americans while expanding coverage; thus, improving quality and making health care more affordable.

Allowing the government to have a heavy hand in how we manage our health care will lead to a decrease in flexibility and options for both patients and doctors.  As Congress works to improve our health care system, it is important to remember that there is a difference between government-run health care coverage and actual access to medical care.  The goal of rational health care reform should be to decrease costs and increase access.  The bill before the Senate does exactly the opposite.  This is not reform.  This bill is simply bad medicine.