Focus On Cutting Costs, Providing More Choices
I believe every American should have access to quality, affordable health care. Their options should protect the doctor-patient relationship, provide choice and focus on prevention. This access would provide millions of Americans personal security through the ability to take ownership of their health care.
When we meet these needs, we will have a health care system in which individual power, knowledge and control will drive down the
cost of health care through the marketplace. Even better, we will have a system in which patients, not government bureaucrats, will be empowered to make health care decisions with their doctors.
The United States has the best health care system in the world. Life expectancy, mortality rates and disease survival rates show we have made strides in keeping people healthier and we are headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, one statistic related to health care is headed in the wrong direction, and that is cost.
Cost makes health care a source of stress for many families, and it threatens employers and our economy. The good news is we can lower costs by empowering individuals by giving them more control, information and choice when it comes to their health care.
With all of the uncertainty about our economy, Americans are right to be cautious about spending their money. When I talk to people, the skyrocketing cost of health care consistently comes up in conversation.
A recent study showed that the cost of health care is one of the leading economic concerns for most families, and it is easy to understand why.
Health insurance premiums have nearly doubled in this country since 2000, compared with 18 percent growth for general consumer prices and 20 percent growth for wages. And over the past five years, family coverage health insurance premiums have increased a startling 73 percent.
In the United States, health care is closely tied to our jobs. Changes in the tax code from World War II made it more economical for employers to offer health insurance, and studies show that health insurance now is the most valued employee benefit.
Currently, 91 percent of workers in businesses employing more than 1,000 people have health insurance, and 66 percent of workers in businesses with fewer than 10 employees have health insurance. These are encouraging numbers, but they too are slowly changing as escalating health care costs drag down a company’s ability to offer health insurance and still remain competitive in the global marketplace.
The number of employers offering coverage has dropped 8 percent since 2000, and that number is growing steadily every year. As workers lose insurance through their jobs, they realize that the tax breaks that are now given to employers are not available to them, making it more expensive to own their own insurance.
Additionally, in the current system, employers make most of the health care purchasing decisions for their employees. Nearly nine out of 10 American companies offer only one health plan to their employees, removing them from making one of the most important decisions in their daily life and ultimately limiting the opportunity for choice and better health care.
We all know that the best health care system in the world cannot provide the highest quality care if that care is not affordable.
One way to lower costs is by providing consumers with more information.
Today, people know more about the car they buy than what they know about the doctor who may perform open-heart surgery on a family member. It is time for more transparency and greater information for health care consumers. Armed with improved access to information about their health care choices, patients can make better decisions about where to spend their health care dollars, thereby introducing competition and lowering costs.
Moreover, in order for Americans to have the highest quality care at the lowest possible price, we must emphasize prevention. Patients need dependable access to health insurance and good relationships with doctors and nurses for prevention to work. Doctors should be able to help people stay healthy instead of caring for them only when they are sick or suffering a medical emergency.
To encourage prevention, we need to give individuals the same tax benefits employers receive to purchase health care, and we need to make health insurance more portable. Individuals should be able to take their health insurance with them as they change jobs. Prevention is part of many health insurance plans right now, but I believe portability will move wellness and prevention services to the forefront of every health plan.
With the goal of giving every American the resources and the right to purchase health care, I introduced the Every American Insured Health Act last year with several of my colleagues. This bill provides every American — regardless of their income — with a flat tax credit that gives them the freedom to choose the health care plans that best meet their needs.
Under my legislation, the millions of Americans who currently do not have insurance could buy it. By giving individuals choice and control over their plans, they will become smarter about their health care options. My legislation also provides a tax incentive to states to create more affordable health insurance options.
To answer many of today’s health care challenges, we need to provide every American with genuine access to quality, affordable health care that protects the doctor-patient relationship, and this legislation would accomplish those goals.
It is time for Congress to agree that every American should have access to affordable health care. Americans need choice, ownership and control. They do not need the government to choose for them. Our health system is the best in the world. It’s time to ensure that American families have access to it.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.