Don’t Diminish Health Care for the Majority of Americans

Posted July 20, 2009 at 11:24am

Despite what so many pundits and politicians say, we have the best health care system in the world. Need proof? Look around.[IMGCAP(1)]Right here in the Capitol, there are shining examples of how American medicine has improved and saved lives. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has beaten the odds to overcome brain cancer for more than a year; Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) credits daily physical therapy and specialty doctors near his hometown with his successful childhood battle over polio; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who as a breast cancer survivor is now doing hero’s work educating young women about the importance of early detection; and even former Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) has recovered from two serious aneurysms and a blood clot in his lung to become vice president.And I’m sure that in each office on Capitol Hill there is an example of how our health care system has saved or enhanced someone’s life.Federal government employees are especially fortunate thanks to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which offers a wide array of health care choices to fit individuals’ needs. In fact, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s Web site, “Federal employees, retirees and their survivors enjoy the widest selection of health plans in the country.— They are able to choose from low-cost, high-deductible plans that provide catastrophic coverage, the comprehensive care of health maintenance organizations or the personal touch of preferred provider organizations.It’s ironic that the organization with the most health care choices in the country and that has received some of the best health care in the world is engaged in work that would undermine the entire health care system.Today, more than 253 million Americans have health insurance, and the vast majority like their coverage and their doctors. What policymakers need to do is fix what’s broken, not create a whole new system that will end up adversely affecting the hundreds of millions of Americans who are happy with our current system. While most agree that we need to find ways to expand access to health care for the uninsured, there are ways to accomplish that without expanding government’s role in the lives of patients or their doctors.According to the Lewin Group, if Congress establishes a public option, it would force 119 million Americans from their current health coverage into a government-controlled plan. And based on similar systems around the world, the plan would lead to patients losing the ability to choose the doctor they trust, long waiting lines to receive care, and a lack of investment in medical technology and innovation.Don’t just take my word for it. In 2003, the head of the British Medical Association described their health care system as “the stifling of innovation by excessive, intrusive audit,— “the shackling of doctors by prescribing guidelines, referral guidelines and protocols,— and “the suffocation of professional responsibility by target-setting and production line values that leave little room for the professional judgment of individual doctors or the needs of individual patients.—In order to improve our system we need to put patients in charge of health care, not the government. Every individual should be able to choose from a variety of private health coverage options, and they should be able to, periodically, change their coverage or their carrier if they are unhappy or if their needs change. This will create competition in the marketplace and force insurance companies to meet the needs of patients, or risk losing business.Furthermore, we can expand access to health care simply by utilizing market enhancements like health savings accounts, tax credits and for those who need help — vouchers. This gives each patient ownership of their health care and provides them with the ability to shop around for the care that best suits their needs and the needs of their families.We all want to see the benefits of our world-class health care system broadened to help all citizens; but in an attempt to expand care to 10 percent of our population, policymakers shouldn’t support legislation that will diminish care for the other 90 percent.Donald Palmisano, a former president of the American Medical Association, serves as the spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights.