Over the past decade, Americans have struggled as the price of health care has soared at a much faster pace than workers’ earnings and the general rate of inflation. In Pennsylvania alone, premiums have skyrocketed 86 percent from 2000 to 2007, rising 6.4 times faster than earnings.
And yet, the mammoth bill being pushed through Congress does nothing to address this serious core problem.
Instead, the plan will deny millions of people choice, cost American jobs and give government bureaucrats the power to dictate what should be private medical decisions between a doctor and patient.
At the heart of the bill that presently has gone the farthest through Congress is an employer mandate that forces all but the tiniest businesses to provide workers with a government-approved insurance plan. If they fail to meet this mandate, they are hit with a new tax ranging from 2 percent to 8 percent of the company’s payroll.
As a result, millions of workers will either lose their employer-provided health insurance or lose their jobs altogether. For many large businesses, the new tax will be preferable to the $12,000 average they now pay for employee insurance, pushing millions of people out of their current coverage and into the clutches of the government’s new health care bureaucracy. For many small businesses, the mandate and accompanying tax impose a burden they simply can’t afford. They will be forced to lay off workers, adding further to our current jobs crisis.
The nonpartisan Lewin Group’s analysis shows the health care proposal will shift almost 90 million people from their employer-based insurance to the new government-run plan. These individuals and families suddenly will have to contend with government agents who have the power to deny treatment, determine how much a life is worth and counsel patients on "dying with dignity" in order to cut costs.
That’s not the American way. And it’s totally unnecessary to address the central problem in health care – rising consumer costs. Instead of a government-run health care plan that subjects millions of individuals to bureaucratic red tape, we can institute a few important policies that will go a long way toward reducing costs and giving individuals more control over their health care decisions.
First, it is high time Congress eliminated the long-standing unfair discrimination built into our tax code. Congress should give individuals who buy health insurance the same tax deduction that employers enjoy when they buy health insurance for their employees. This will automatically make health care more affordable for millions of uninsured Americans.
Second, Congress should give individuals and businesses the right to buy insurance from other states. Believe it or not, the current law prohibits a self-employed Pennsylvanian from buying health insurance from a neighboring state. Instead, he has to choose from a limited array of prices and benefits that might or might not meet his unique needs or those of his family. In Pennsylvania, this system gives some health insurance companies a near monopoly, and it’s a big part of the reason costs have climbed so high.
Changing this law will force health insurance companies to compete with each other across the country, much as life and car insurance companies do today.
Finally, Congress should crack down on frivolous medical lawsuits. Everyone agrees that patients should have a right to hold doctors accountable for negligence and malpractice, but runaway lawsuits have created an environment of skyrocketing premiums for doctors and hospitals who have done nothing wrong, and those enormous costs get passed on to patients.
In addition to the direct costs of litigation, lawsuit abuse forces health care providers to practice costly, defensive medicine – ordering tests and procedures that are not medically necessary – in order to reduce their risks of being sued. Comprehensive legal reform that stops junk lawsuits will bring down health care costs for everyone.
These policies might not seem as "bold" as the one making its way through Congress. But if "bold" means fewer choices in health care, government intervening between doctors and patients, higher costs, higher taxes, a higher deficit and fewer jobs, then "bold" is the wrong way to go. The country needs thoughtful and targeted solutions, not taxpayer-funded extreme makeovers.
Instead of a government-run health care plan that subjects millions of individuals to bureaucratic red tape, we can institute a few important policies that will go a long way toward reducing costs.
Pat Toomey, a resident of Lehigh County, is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. For information, go to www.toomeyforsenate.com.